We live in a world with a lot of disagreement. And, in my opinion, that's OK. Varying, even opposing, perceptions and ideas often lead us to the greatest results--both in life and at work. However, I recently witnessed a small dispute between a customer and a waiter at a restaurant that made me think about our ability, or inability, to disagree with someone without getting personal. In this case, the disagreement was over the check. The two parties did not reach an agreement. The waiter politely caved and changed the charges on the bill. And, at first, the whole scenario seemed pretty well-mannered. But then something ugly happened. As the two men separated ways, both called the other person curse words.
While it's true that these men may deserve the spirited labels given to them, I couldn't help but wonder if they had had enough conversation throughout their brief meeting to get any sense of who the other person truly was. Were they calling each other horrible names simply because they disagreed over a number?
On television, we watch reality-TV stars argue with one another. On social media, I see people who label others over everything from political affiliations to favorite sports teams to what kind of car they drive. And, from my time speaking to managers and employees around the world, I know these ugly disagreements are happening in the workplace as well--many of them.
So, here are my two questions. Can we disagree and still be kind? And, as leaders, wouldn't that make us more effective?
Kindness may sound like a weakness in our survival-of-the-fittest world. Researchers have long studied the impact kindness can have on our own happiness--which seems like it would improve our ability to lead. Researchers at the University of Oxford recently analyzed hundreds of published papers that studied the relationship between kindness and happiness. They found 21 studies that explicitly prove that being kind to others makes us happier. And a study from the University of Warwick revealed that happy people at work are 12 percent more productive than unhappy people. These are great things to know. But can kindness at work also elevate your leadership?
Here are three ways I've found that simple kindness could bring you more success as a leader at work.
1. Appreciation inspires greater results.
Being kind means you sincerely celebrate the successes of others at work. You actually care. Global research from my own firm, O.C. Tanner Institute, reveals that when employees were asked what the one thing their boss or company could give them that would inspire them to strive for great results, recognition was, hands down, the number one answer. It was bigger than pay increases, promotions, training, and autonomy. Celebrating the achievements of others is being kind. It turns out, it also inspires great results.
2. Connection leads to better ideas.
It would make sense that kind people would have an easier time networking and making more sincere connections--because they care about the people they meet. But there's more to it than that. Our research also found that 72 percent of award-winning projects involve people talking to, and asking questions of, people who may not be in their inner circle. They care to discover the opinions of people who may not know anything about their current project, and appreciate the opinions of people who may disagree with them or dislike their ideas. That's kindness--gaining the perception of someone else, whether they agree with you or not.
3. Correction can improve relationships.
As leaders, sometimes it's our responsibility to let others know when they're not meeting expectations. And corrective conversations are rarely considered to be acts of kindness. But leaders who express kindness, and a sincere desire to help an employee become their best, build stronger relationships with their people. In fact, a 10-year study by Harvard Business Review reveals that the number one thing holding back second-rate executives is their inability to create trusting relationships.
We live in a world with a lot of disagreement. We all have our own opinions, ideas, and perceptions. Within .45 seconds, a Google search of "leadership" returns 2.1 billion results. Obviously, there's a seemingly endless amount of information available for us all to learn about becoming better leaders. However, the moment we forget that our first responsibility as a leader is to actually care about the success of others is the moment we fail. Better leadership starts with simple kindness--in life and at work.
Ralph Waldo Emerson may have said it best. "You can not do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."