On Being Kind



Meaning and purpose.


The power of choice.

Defeating stress.

How to listen.

These are all topics you and I have been talking together about so far this year. All topics I think are vital for success in today’s world of work. And there’s another important one I want to raise with you right now:

It helps to be kind.

I know, I’m a hopeless optimist. Because we all know, as Leo Durocher famously said, “Nice guys finish last”. Guess what? A new study even seems to support that idea. The study found that disagreeable men made about $10,000 more a year than more agreeable men.

The big difference between agreeable people and disagreeable people seems to be the extent to which agreeable folks will go to preserve relationships. Agreeable people will bend over backwards to prevent discord, difficult conversations or hard feelings.

And often lose something important in the attempt. When I’m overly agreeable, I lose my autonomy. My personhood. My ability to think for myself. My ability to advocate for myself.

Hey, I don’t want you to lose. Really. So let me offer a slight re-definition and shift that might give you a different perspective.

You see, in my mind, there’s an important difference between being overly agreeable and being kind.

It’s kind to offer advice, support and guidance to someone as they work through a challenging project at work.

It’s overly agreeable when  I take over the project at the last moment when you drop the ball – and you take full credit for the end result.

It’s kind when I give a chance to a kid looking for her first job.

It’s overly agreeable when I make room for the Area Vice President’s shiftless, idiot nephew in my department.

It’s kind to remind the boss when I’m going to be on vacation, and create a plan to make sure everything’s covered in my absence.

It’s overly agreeable to take work with me on vacation.

It’s kind when I quietly draw you aside and whisper that you have spinach in your teeth.

It’s overly agreeable to pick the spinach out for you.

Note the distinction?

That’s why the modern workplace could use more kindness and less at “any costs” agreeableness. I’m not saying we go all Meryl-Streep-in-The-Devil-Wears-Prada – in fact, the economic difference between agreeable and disagreeable women in the study was negligible. Researchers remind women: “Nice girls might not get rich, but ‘mean’ girls do not do much better. Even controlling for human capital, marital status, and occupation, highly disagreeable women do not earn as much as highly agreeable men.”

The thing is this: too many of us – overly agreeable men and agreeable women – bring to work all of our childhood “stuff” about being good and making everything right and smoothing relationships so no one yells at us, or tells us we’re big disappointments, or grounds us on Homecoming weekend.

We operate from fear, people. Which puts us at a disadvantage right from the start.

We’ve got to knock that off. Right away.

Because overly agreeable men and overly agreeable women lose when we mistake agreement with kindness. We lose money, we lose opportunity, we lose values, we lose ownership, we lose, lose, lose.

So, let’s re-define.  Kindness means:

Having an opinion.

Listening to the opinions others and respectfully disagreeing if that’s the way it is.

Saying no sometimes.

Saying yes only sometimes.

Appropriately helping.

Taking the risk to be fully yourself.

Truly kind leaders – regardless of their position on the org chart – are the ones we all remember. They’re the ones we are grateful to. Who are our most memorable mentors.

They’re the ones who make a difference.

Know what? That can be you.

You can leave a truly indelible legacy.

It all starts with kindness.


Photo credit: Michele Woodward