One of my leadership maxims is “we’re dealing with human beings.” I repeat it regularly to my leadership team because I want us to think in terms of the people we work with and not just in terms of goals and strategies and what must be done today. It is important for all of us to stop and remember that the people we are counting on need to be able to count on us and that real leadership is kind and humane. It is too often true that we must make hard choices and that we must deliver difficult news or honestly coach someone about their performance. But it never needs to be delivered unkindly. We have all been on the other end of fierce comments, bad news and harsh remarks. We didn’t like it when we were the target and we must be certain that we choose to be better than that.
How we respond to things, how we treat people, all of our offhand remarks communicate something about us as leaders and about our values. It is very easy to fall into making snarky remarks or criticizing things that happened in the past. Cynicism comes all too easily to our minds. However, you can never tell whose feelings you might step on. It is very easy to criticize the bearer of bad news or the person who is having a hard time getting things done. And those are often opportunity moments where you can help someone up or tear someone down.
I see real kindness in my collegial relationships, both within my employer and with my colleagues around the country. But all too often I see people give into cynicism about people above them in the org chart, or about processes and motives of others. It is so easy to make the quick joke at someone’s expense or to not respond when someone expresses negative opinions about people, organizations and opportunities.
A long time ago I read The Power of Positive Thinking. I highly recommend it and still draw on it as I try to lead with good cheer and optimism. I believe optimism is a choice. I likewise believe kindness is a choice and one that we as leaders must choose. We must overcome the temptation to criticize unkindly and focus on how we want to be treated and the kind of culture we want to create in our organizations.
We succeed or fail based on how our teams perform. We spend more time with our colleagues than anyone but our families. And we can build great human relationships or we can just get some things done and go home. At the core of this is kindness. If we choose kindness everyday, we not only build strong relationships and loyalty to each other, we may just get a reward ourselves in being part of a really special team.
It’s your choice.