I’ve been in business for a long time. Long enough to remember the bad old days. Entrepreneurs were seen as ruthless, money-crazed workaholics, who used the language of warfare to describe growing a business.
“We’re going to kill the competition”
“Take no prisoners”
“Here’s the battle plan”
These stereotypes were perpetuated by the likes of Lord Sugar on The Apprentice and the investors on Dragons’ Den. However, I’m glad to say that, in 2023, the language of leadership and entrepreneurship is very different.
These days, one of the greatest attributes of any entrepreneur is kindness, and the ability to listen and empathise. Great leaders don’t make unreasonable demands, they understand their people, engaging and motivating them to bring their best selves to work.
I was reminded of this recently, by my son Josh, when I was being… less than kind. I’m not perfect, and when life is stressful, I can have a short temper and make too many demands of people – most notably my wife Mandy. I must also remain mindful that my hearing issues also mean I need to try harder than most to be a good listener and understand the nuance in what I’m being told. Josh asked me to be kinder, and he was right.
A century ago, fear could generate respect. Today I don’t believe that is the case. People respect those who respect them back, showing kindness and consideration.
Even a hard-nosed businessman can’t ignore the studies supporting the kind approach. This Harvard Study shows that acts of kindness make people happier and a happier workplace means greater staff retention, less friction, and ultimately happier customers. A recent survey by Gallup found that being recognised at work reduced burnout and absenteeism, and improved well-being.
But being a kind leader is about more than trying to improve productivity. We should be kind because it is right, because it sets a positive example to others, and because, as the Greek storyteller Aesop once wrote: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
When BigChange’s CEO, Richard Warley, joined the business, I saw in him a great entrepreneur who understood the value of listening. He has always treated people with respect and leads with kindness. We speak regularly and may not always agree on everything, but he always takes the time to hear and consider my point of view.
What does kindness look like in leadership? Here’s an example:
If someone is leaving the business, take the time to ask them why, and say how sorry you are that they have found a new position. Tell them the door is always open for them to come back and wish them well.
Entrepreneurs are busy people with a lot on their plate but that should never be an excuse for being unkind. As the Dalai Lama XIV once said: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. And be kinder than is necessary.”