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Lara Heacock is a Leadership Coach who brings over 20 years’ experience in Corporate America. She is the co-host of the Doing (good) Business podcast and works with professionals and companies to help them use kindness as their competitive advantage.
Lara’s background includes working in companies ranging from small privately-held firms to multi-national organizations. In over a decade of leadership, she managed geographically dispersed teams, and mentored and coached associates in the US and abroad.
Lara has an MBA, is a certified coach, award-winning writer, in-demand speaker, and author of the book Practical Kindness: 52 Ways To Bring More Compassion, Courage And Kindness Into Your World
Lara is obsessed with how we change the culture of corporate America from one promotes “busy-ness” and burnout as status symbols to one that’s rooted in kindness. Using her KIND method, Lara works with leaders to avoid their own burnout, so that they can create teams (and lives!) that thrive. You can download the KIND methodology at LaraHeacock.com and get daily doses of kindness at KindOverMatter.com.
Think kindness is only soft and fluffy, or that you don’t need to practice kindness when you’re in charge? Think again. The talent market is the most competitive that it’s been in decades, and candidates have a choice of where to work.
Now, more than ever, your leadership style, company values, and culture can make or break an organization. Kindness is key to an engaged team, retention, and a strong corporate culture.
Now, before you start thinking that all you have to do is chit-chat with folks around the water cooler, and you can call it kindness, let’s press pause! Wikipedia (I know, not the most reliable source on the planet, but it is a top resource in 2020!) defines kindness as: Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others. It is considered a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.
Kindness is a behavior. That, right there, is the key. Kindness is active. It goes well beyond being nice at water cooler chit-chat. Kindness as a leadership advantage looks like creating a culture that allows employees to bring their whole selves to work (hat tip: Brene Brown.) It looks like modeling that behavior for those around you. It looks like going beyond diversity to true inclusion and belonging.
It looks like valuing results over time-at-desk; practicing self-leadership, encouraging connection, and building an environment that practices kind, consistent feedback.
Sound like a lot? Let’s look at a couple of examples of leaders who are doing it well. Please note names and identifying details have been changed for the purpose of these case studies.
First, we’ll look at Monique. Monique is a Director in a global publicly-traded, fortune 500 company. She has been with them for almost 20 years, and has advanced from supervisor to her current Director position.
She leads anywhere from three to six teams at a time, and her group is known throughout the organization as having the highest retention rate. They’re the place everyone wants to work. Is it Monique’s education or the type of work her teams are doing that makes them so desirable? Not at all. Her education is actually not as high as many of her peers, and her employees work ranges from entry level to highly technical.
What makes Monique’s teams the place to be, is her kindness as a leader. We’ll start by looking at her teams. They are diverse in all ways – gender, age, ethnicity, etc. She is known to be selective in her hiring and hire for person over skill. Many of her leaders have worked under her for almost her entire tenure.
When Monique believes in an employee, she mentors, coaches, develops, and promotes them – even if that means outside her area or the company. In fact, Monique led a career development workshop series for the employees on her teams, to help them answer the eternal question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?”
Finally, and possibly most importantly, Monique allows her leaders and their employees to be real. She doesn’t expect them to check their personal lives at the door. She, instead, listens to them. She is empathetic, compassionate, and kind. She trusts them to be professionals and understands that sometimes life happens, and she supports them in handling that, even when work is temporarily impacted.
Next, we’ll look at Jane. Jane runs her own company in the clothing industry. She shifted careers several years ago when she saw a need in the market, and despite all of the advice telling her that this clothing venture would be a mistake, she pressed on with her vision.
Jane’s company is small, and it’s essentially a manufacturing company located in a major East Coast metropolitan city. Not only did Jane know she wanted to have all of her company’s functions under one roof, she decided to immediately pay her employees the wage that her city designates as a “living wage.” A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs, and yes, it’s almost always higher than the state minimum wage requirement.
In addition to her payment structure, Jane provides her employees the ability to work flexible schedules. Now, to most corporate leaders, this seems status quo, but in the manufacturing industry, it’s anything but! When her employees need to take care of family issues, she not only allows them to work the hours that support them, she encourages them to do so. Jane’s company also prides itself in sourcing materials that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
While the identifying details were changed, these two case studies are real. Each leader exemplifies the type of kindness that give them a distinct advantage in the marketplace. In the strongest job market of several decades, candidates have more choices than ever. Research continues to show that what they want in an employer are things like recognition, comradery, and a strong mission. Research also continues to support the fact that while candidates choose a job based on the company, they leave a job based on their leader.
As a leader, you have a choice every day. Do you maintain what may be the status quo and simply sit in an office all day, or do you practice kindness? Do you show that you value feedback by asking for it and being open to hearing what your employees have to say, or do you rely on an antiquated annual review system? How do you operationalize your company’s values? Do your employees even know what your company values are? How diverse is your senior leadership team? Are you willing to take your time to hire the right person and seek out those who don’t look like you? How are you taking care of yourself outside of work so that you can truly be present with your people?
That’s admittedly a lot to consider.
As with anything, the best way to start is by taking one small step. What’s one area of your leadership that you want to examine? Maybe the idea of operationalizing values stands out to you. A great way to start is by defining each value. Once you have that piece, start to think of behaviors that do and don’t support that value. An example would be integrity. Perhaps you define integrity as doing what we say we’ll do, and communicating in a clear and timely manner if circumstances change. Excellent! A way that you might demonstrate that is by sharing how you delivered some difficult news to a client.
Perhaps a timeline changed or a delivery had to be delayed. As a leader demonstrating integrity, you get to model that client communication. A behavior that would not support the value of integrity would be waiting until the last minute to inform the client and forcing unrealistic deadlines on everyone involved in the hopes of keeping the original delivery date.
You can see how the process works. Kindness is active. Kindness is a behavior that you can choose consistently, and that will not only make your workplace a more pleasant place to be, it will positively impact engagement, retention, and overall employee well-being. As the leader, it starts with you.