In many ways, the classic American business ethos is the antithesis of kindness, rife with blind ambition, where one climbs the ladder of success, never minding the heads that might be stepped on along the way. It's a land where people do what they are told, where "I don't pay you to think". It's a work ethic where "driving for success" is admired, regardless of the dark route that drive had to take. This is the ugly American at his or her worst.
The problem with that whole line of thought is that it casually forgets that almost all effort at work is actually discretionary in nature. We all choose how we show up to work each and every morning (figuratively or literally). Even when we are "doing as we are told", our disdain for systems and managers (as opposed to leaders) that disregard who we are as human beings inevitably leads, at best, passive resistance. At worst? Things like active sabotage come to mind. I don't care who you are, where you come from, or how much money you have: None of us work best under threat or coercion. Sure, ambition may carry us along for some period of time, but just like gravity, we inevitably get pulled down to reality. Put another way, ambition is a bit like really good chocolate cake in that our perception of having it is always better than the actual taste. And when we finally do get that cake? Well, how many pieces does it take before we're so sick of cake that we can't eat another bite?
For the record, I'm not dismissing ambition. Like any tool, it can be used or abused. Kind of like using a $200+ power drill...
The cure, if you want to call it that, for what ails our society is kindness. Just be kind.
- Be kind when it's easy.
- Be especially kind when it's hard.
- Be kind to those who are kind to you.
- Be especially kind to those who are not kind to you. They likely don't know any better or they might be struggling in ways that none of us can understand.
- Be as kind to the person who empties your trash as you are to the executive you want to impress.
- Be kind in ways only you need to know about.
- Be kind because ultimately you have to live with yourself...and do you really want to live with someone isn't kind?
Kindness doesn't mean that we fail to make difficult business decisions. Someone can be, for example, laid off from their job in a manner that is kind. Someone can be put on a performance improvement plan that is inherently kind (because we actually want them to get better). We can provide all manner of constructive feedback in a spirit that speaks of kindness. We can seek promotions/professional growth in a way that demonstrates the value we see in others...not as steps to walk on along our way...but as allies who have taught us and added to our capabilities.
By the way, kindness in a business context has a kind of secret weapon quality to it: It's free. Being kind costs absolutely nothing. No special kindness training to schedule and attend. No consultants needed. No programs to implement. No infographics or logos required. No polices to socialize and then post on the intranet. Just commit to being kind.
Lastly, like all truly important things in our lives (be they be personal or professional), kindness is a journey. I am not always as kind as I should be, particularly to those who I seem to think not kind to me or to others. I particularly struggle with individuals that I believe have a generous ego. I can, should and will do better, not because I'm looking for some otherworldly reward, but because ultimately kindness is the reward.