Kindness Can Be Taught

I spend a lot of time thinking (and worrying) about ways to build and maintain a great culture at Parker Technology. As I sought my next “hook” to launch this LI article, I was fortunate enough to catch a vignette on NPR by Anya Kamenetz, Cory Turner and Chloee Weiner, entitled “Kindness Can Be Taught. Here’s How.” The story explored research about how to raise awesome children; however, as I listened and then later read the story online, I became positively “giddy!”

See for yourself – contemplate each reference below as input to building a great culture in addition to raising awesome children. The bullet points, for reference, come from a book written by Thomas Lickona, titled How to Raise Kind Kids.

1)     Children are born to be kind – but also unkind

2)     Kindness requires courage

3)     To build kindness, practice mindfulness

4)     Teach real apologies, frame forgiveness as a gift you give yourself

5)     Practice gratitude to “raise the capital” of everyday kindness

6)     Kindness is a habit; rituals, chores and service can all help

The aha moment for me arrived when I realized that these lessons start early, and never end because they are the essence of what it means to be human. It’s not a leap to say that all the things that make a “great” kid, also make a great employee. Here’s how I bridged the gap between Mr. Lickona’s list and all the hard work by our leaders at Parker Technology to build a great, kind culture.

People are born to be kind – but also unkind: To create a great culture, we don’t have to invent something new and radical – we simply need to appreciate that we’re all born to be kind and with the right conditions, kindness can surface in everyone with whom we work. It’s IN there, we just need to create the right environment to bring it to the forefront. I go to work everyday intent on creating a safe, challenging and kind workplace knowing that if I do that, I can expect kindness to show up in our culture.

Kindness requires courage: When I think of the courage required to deliver kindness, I think about Brene Brown and the tremendous body of work she has created on the power of being a vulnerable leader. It takes courage to be vulnerable and kind and my experience is that if you start with courage and being vulnerable, good things will follow, like kindness.

To build kindness, practice mindufulness: Mindfulness has lots of definitions. However, it all boils down to “being in the moment,” by engaging people, truly listening to their stories, focusing on the now and being purposeful with your actions.

Teach real apologies, frame forgiveness as a gift you give yourself: I’ve read, and believe, that great leaders admit their mistakes, clearing the way for others in their company to know that mistakes are a part of life and that mistakes should be declared, owned and learned from. The gift in this case is the “gift of learning”.

Practice gratitude to “raise the capital” of everyday kindness: Do I even need to build a bridge to the business world for number 5? Expressing gratitude to those with whom you work is a force multiplier of capital, because everyone wants to be appreciated and to know that the work that they do matters.

Kindness is a habit; rituals, chores and service can all help: The last one is my clincher, because the “habits” of a company are its culture. Parker Technology was fortunate enough to be nominated as a candidate for the best culture in Indianapolis, and when they asked me why culture was important, I responded by saying that culture is the operating system of our business. Culture creates the guiding principles of behaviors when your manager is not watching. A caring and productive culture, in the context of bullet number six, is the “kindness habit.” Those companies that have a caring culture have formed rituals, chores and traditions that support kindness.

So, what does all of this mean? I think it means two things: 1) To have great kids and cultures, you need strong parents and leaders willing to model important behaviors that create an environment of kindness; 2) The seeds of kindness are sown from childbirth, and its our job as leaders to create the conditions for kindness to blossom when those children grow up and become our team members.