Lessons in kindness from a top-50 kind leader

Wednesday 06 January 2021
Tamara Box CMgr CCMI is one of the UK’s 50 Kindness & Leadership Leading Lights. She explains why kindness is a manager's most valuable trait
Tamara Box CMgr CCMI

Tamara Box CMgr CCMI, managing partner, Europe and Middle East at law firm Reed Smith, believes strongly in the adage ‘pay it forward’. Every day includes opportunities to do something for someone else, she says, but people often view good deeds as reciprocal. If you think about how that helping hand might then benefit someone else in the future, however, doing someone a kindness can be much more rewarding. “In this way we support and train future leaders, who then incorporate kindness and generosity in their actions and in their organisations.”

It’s why Tamara is one of the 50 Leading Lights of UK 2020 Kindness & Leadership, which shines a light on the importance of kindness and empathy from those in leadership roles.

“Kindness manifests itself in a pattern of behaviour that has at its heart a strong sense of relationship,” Tamara says. “Kind leaders treat people with respect, dignity, and fairness.”

Kind leaders, Tamara explains, are all about authenticity, expecting it from themselves and others. They create a safe and open environment where everyone feels able to express their opinions without fear of judgment. “Most importantly, they foster an atmosphere where everyone feels not just included but valued. Through their actions, kind leaders inspire co-operative relationships and congenial working conditions. After all, kindness isn’t really kindness until it’s shared!”

Why kindness matters in 2021
With so much uncertainty from the pandemic and Brexit, and the longer effect these things may have on the economy in the months to come, wellbeing has become a huge issue for organisations. This is why kindness is such an important trait for leaders to embrace.

“Uncertainty makes everyone anxious; that anxiety robs our organisations of cohesiveness and ultimately, productivity,” says Tamara.

This may even overrule the need for candour in your conversations with your team. Tamara cites research from the Saïd Business School, which found that during a crisis, optimism and resilience are valued over complete candour. “That doesn’t mean hiding the facts or being a ‘Pollyanna’! It just means that it is kind to be hopeful when you back up that hope with a plan.”

The benefits of kindness
The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation published Business Case for Kindness in which they outlined the benefits of kindness:

  • Fosters trust within an organisation
  • Assists in talent recruitment
  • Heightens employee engagement and commitment
  • Fuels learning and innovation
  • Promotes high-quality service and brand loyalty
  • Improves business performance

“While many of these things are not specifically quantifiable, they have been painstakingly researched and documented by PwC, Gallup Research, Deloitte University, Booz Allen Hamilton, and others. That they are credible is not in doubt.”

CMI’s recent Management Transformed: Managing in a Marathon Crisis study found that: “it’s not where we work that determines our productivity and job satisfaction; it’s how we’re managed and led.”

Good managers communicate clearly, build workplace trust, listen, motivate and empathise, which is the most critical point, says Tamara. “They care – and demonstrate that care – about the wellbeing of staff. Given the findings, the CMI’s report could easily just have said good managers put kindness at the core of their management style.”

Even our own language may be telling us that kindness is the path to effectiveness, she explains. “The word ‘kindness’ comes from the Old English ‘kyndnes’, which meant ‘produce or increase’.  In 14th century Middle English, the word ‘kindenes’ took on the additional meaning of ‘courtesy’ or ‘noble deeds’.”

She cites even more evidence of the value of kindness to business: a recent study at the University of Warwick found that being kind increases happiness, and a content workforce is 12% more productive than an unhappy one.

How business could be kinder

“Here’s the secret about kindness,” says Tamara. “It gives even more benefit to the person performing the act of kindness than it does to the recipient. Ever wonder why ‘random acts of kindness’ are so successful?”

It’s human nature to be caring and want to be helpful, she explains. People are motivated to make a positive impact. When we are kind, we are rewarded with serotonin and an increased sense of self-worth.

“When we incorporate kindness in our organisations, we are making stronger, happier, more interconnected teams who have a purpose beyond individual performance,” Tamara says. “We all have values that define our organisations; why not include kindness as one of them?”

Tamara recommends that managers define specific actions that are illustrative of kindness – such as respect, equity, inclusion – and make them part of who you are as a business. She also offers advice on how managers could be kinder in their day-to-day roles:

1. Listen

“How much do you really know about your colleagues and staff?  Have you ever listened to their concerns and issues, heard their dreams, shared their fears?  Do you feel a connection beyond working together on a task? Do you respect them as equals, deserving of fairness, compassion, and inclusion?  Can you imagine a day in their shoes?  When they need you, will you be there for them?”

2. Consider how your actions and words might be different if you were to take a kinder approach

“That doesn’t mean you overlook poor performance or stay silent in the face of improper behaviour but rather think about how you can turn even the most problematic situation into an act of kindness.”

Tamara remembers a colleague who thanked her for firing him, saying it was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for him. She had suspected he was unhappy as a lawyer as he struggled in the office, but didn’t have the courage to rethink his career. “I took a great deal of time finding the right way to show kindness in what I expected to be a difficult conversation, and in the end, I think it was that extra kindness that allowed him to have clarity about his life.  He retrained in a different field and has been successful – and happy – ever since.”

3. Make kindness a deliberate act, not a random one

“It should be incorporated not only into your business ethos, but also into your personal philosophy. It will make you happier and more effective in everything you do. By caring about others, you lift both yourself and them.”


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