Todd Richardson, the Executive Vice President of Administration at ExactTarget, addresses why kindness matters in the workplace.
By: Todd Richardson
As a rambunctious child, I was constantly being counseled, re-directed, and [insert any other word for “disciplined”]. My mother would always partner her discipline with the phrase, “Todd, kindness matters.” I did not have much context for this simple phrase at age four, so I filed it away in the mental folder titled “stuff my mom says.”
Fast forward two decades. I met my future wife while in college. From the first time I met her, I knew there was clearly something special about her. She genuinely cared about everyone she came in contact with. The manner in which she supported friends in good times and bad, sacrificed her own interests for others, and overall approached life was a testament to her own upbringing and the quality of person she was. Kindness mattered to my wife, and it was evident in how she treated others.
Fast forward another decade. You can imagine my surprise when I came home from work one day to find that my wife had bought some new home furnishings, including a sign now hanging in our kitchen that simply stated “Kindness Matters.” Memories came flooding back from my childhood of my mom saying this very phrase. What my mom had engrained in me from an early age was the exact same guiding principle that had been at the core of my wife’s treatment of people and one of the reasons I fell in love with her in the first place. Now, the phrase “Kindness Matters” is hanging in my kitchen for me to pass by and reflect on each day.
People described as “kind” are often thought of as being generous, compassionate, gracious, tolerant, and helpful. These same descriptors are how I would like to be referred to as a business leader. I have always found that staying kind in good times is easy. Being a kind leader in challenging times is far more difficult. The following are a few reasons why I strive to stay kind when people and/or circumstances are anything but kind:
- Nothing disarms an adversary quicker than showing them kindness. I recently had a challenging situation that required me to work with a person who is known to have a difficult personality. In our first interaction, I fought the urge to jump right to the matter-at-hand. Instead, I started the discussion by getting to know her. I inquired about her family, work history, and passions outside of work. Through these discussions, I discovered that her children were about to embark on a mission trip to Haiti. I shared with her my own ties to Haiti and offered to share some travel books and my own journal from Haitian travels. By making a personal connection and showing her kindness, I made an otherwise tense circumstance bearable and actually productive. Kindness at the outset disarmed things from negatively escalating.
- A culture of kindness is something that must be fostered and exhibited by its leaders. The stresses of running a business are many and varied. Well-intentioned people often lose sight of what is important when they are managing stressful situations. As leaders, we must not only lead by example, but also foster an environment where kindness is expected. I go out of my way to applaud efforts by my team when they exhibit kindness to each other and our customers. Likewise, if someone is unkind, I will immediately address the behavior, including expelling the person from the organization if warranted.
- Simply put, being kind is the right thing to do. Regardless of your country of origin, religion, education, industry or workplace, the principle of kindness is something that is understood by all. We have all had experiences dealing with kind people and recognize the positive feelings it elicits. Likewise, unkind people are not liked by others and are often less productive and effective in the workplace. I challenge all of my leaders and employees to approach interactions with an attitude of kindness so that regardless of business outcomes, their legacy of being kind endures.
However you define “kindness,” it matters. As a leader, you must persevere and not just be kind, but expect it of others. By doing so, you will foster an engaged culture and will forge a legacy that is just and one that you will be proud of. People do not always remember what you say but they do remember how you made them feel.
Todd Richardson is the Executive Vice President of Administration at ExactTarget and was featured in Issue 8 of Forefront Magazine.
Latest posts by Todd Richardson (see all)
- Culture Isn’t Just an Employee Issue - August 17, 2015
- Disobey Your Attorney: Share Life With Your Employees - March 17, 2015
- Disobey Your Attorney: Get Personal - March 16, 2015