Okay, so Aesop was an ancient Greek story teller rather than leader of a multi-national conglomerate. Even so, his words resonate with us in the business world today.
That’s because we know, in the deepest darkest corner of our corporate hearts, that they’re true.
The tricky part of management is the capacity to inspire, engage and teach resilience. Leadership doesn’t spring from one single quality. It needs a bucket full of authentic attributes for a standout leader to, well, stand out.
But one or two things are key.
In a previous blog, Virgin says get friendly. So let’s get friendly!, we looked at a very simple but effective leadership attribute. Friendliness. Let’s keep things amiable, and look at the power of kindness as well.
Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval made it to the top of the advertising industry by means of a simple but powerful philosophy: it pays to be nice. They believed, contrary to current wisdom, that nice people finish first. They wrote about it in their book, ‘The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness’ and continue to campaign on the enormous impact of small gestures.
They cite six powerful principles for engaging employees and stakeholders with niceness. Here are the two which stand out to us.
YOU NEVER KNOW
Strangers are important, and niceness shouldn’t be reserved for those you know. ‘You have to treat everyone you meet as if they are the most important person in the world - because they are. If not to you, then to someone; and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.’
Thaler shares a personal story of a deal she secured - $40million worth of new business. The source? An act of kindness to a junior colleague 25 years before. Just a simple act, in a single moment, created a significant and lasting memory for this person. Over two decades later with their careers having moved in different directions, they sought Thaler out. Ultimately because they knew no better person to trust their brand too.
YOU WILL KNOW
Kindness has to be authentic, and you will know when you mean it, and when you don’t. What’s more, so will the person you’re dealing with.
Our clever selves already know that engagement isn’t about a single moment. It’s a collection of moments that dictates your style. That’s why authentic and consistent kindness is a truly powerful thing. Your people know they can depend on you.
Grow the ability to be nice without expecting something in return, or calculating the leverage you’re gaining. Kindness has to be habitual - authentic and firmly felt.
Nowhere will this pay off more for you, and all those around you, than when the pressure is on.
Mark Horstman author of The Effective Manager says, ‘You can deliver tough messages with kindness. You don’t have to be mean, short, or disrespectful to challenge people. You don’t have to be brusque, or rude. You don’t have to act like the boss. Nor do you have to sugar-coat hard messages. Be direct and be kind doing it. That takes love.’
Deborah Khoshaba, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Training and Development for the Hardiness Institute, is of the same mind. ‘Authentic kindness is a decision to respond to the needs of others, rather than a compulsion to act good.’
Delivering outcomes with kindness takes mindful, authentic leaders. Khoshaba believes that those with the capacity to feel compassion and appreciate suffering have a much greater footing for a favourable reputation – which translates to their brand.
Here at #HR, we agree that kindness is a strength, often underestimated and easily undervalued. The effects may not be obvious or immediate. It requires biases to be put aside and a code of behaviour which is less about leverage and more about nourishing relationships.
But we’ll let Branson have the last word. He’s used a few key philosophies in building his eight billion-dollar businesses, but one of them is running a large business the same way as a small one – by being responsive and friendly.
‘If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business – it’s that simple,’ he says.
The difference to make is a kind one – at every stage of the game.