Kindness and Competence Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Interpersonal kindness in the workplace is good business for employee engagement, loyal customers, and trust in the company culture

Interpersonal kindness in the workplace is good business for employee engagement and results.

If you ever want to see hundreds of people teeming with purpose, look no further than the airport. I travel a lot and can honestly say that the tendency of most business travelers, myself included, is to move quickly through the airport, get to your seat, read the news, and get some work done if you can. To a certain degree, everyone is focused on their own agendas. No one is talking to each other, much less looking for an opportunity to stop and be helpful to someone. And that’s the beauty of the story I encountered recently.

Debbie Bolton was waiting to board her flight when she noticed a visibly distressed young father nearby hugging his daughter. Bolton approached to ask what was wrong. The father explained that he was informed that his two-year-old could not fly for free on his lap and that he would have to buy a $749 ticket. Distraught by the news, he had stepped aside from the counter and began making panicked phone calls. When he explained his dilemma, Bolton went up to the counter and purchased the toddler’s ticket. Overwhelmed by the gesture, the father asked for her name so he could repay her, but she told him not to worry about it.

Couldn’t we all use some more kindness in the workplace these days, not to mention the airport?

Bolton had hoped to remain anonymous, but when her act of generosity went viral online, it was hard to keep her secret any longer. Bolton is the Co-Founder and Global Chief Sales Officer at Norwex, an eco-friendly home care products company, and is characterized by her colleagues as “an amazing woman.” Amy Cadora, Chief Marketing Officer for the company said, “We’re not surprised to hear of Debbie’s kind and generous personal gesture.”

Bolton’s caring behavior at the airport may have captured the attention of newsmakers, but her leadership style has set her apart at Norwex. Traditionalists may be wondering just how effective someone like Bolton can be on the job. Many old-school leaders think they need to be tough and, better yet, a little distant from their employees to be effective. A report by Harvard Business Review says that, to the contrary, new developments in organizational research are providing some hard data on the effectiveness of being nice.

For example, Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy and her research partners have proven that “leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. Why? One reason is trust. Employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.”

Employees who work in a culture of trust that is cultivated by kindness are happier and perform better. If given the option of higher pay or happier job environment, employees choose the better work climate. So, naturally a culture led by trustworthy leaders emerges with a higher level of engaged employees, increased job satisfaction and better treatment of company customers. In short, interpersonal kindness in the workplace is good business.

Many of you may feel like your leadership is channeling airport behavior when it comes to meeting deadlines, but leaders like Bolton show us that when presented with the higher road, kindness and competence don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Couldn’t we all use some more kindness in the workplace these days, not to mention the airport?

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