28 Aug 2019

Lessons in kindness

Holly Maguire writes in CityAM on what can business leaders learn from Mister Rogers.

Say the name Mister Rogers to a certain generation of Americans, and they will likely go misty-eyed and start humming the same tune. 

Fred Rogers hosted a US children’s television programme called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that ran from 1968 all the way to 2001. The show was revered for its host’s gentle nature and the lessons it taught its young viewers about how to treat one another. 

Rogers, who passed away in 2003, has since become an icon of kindness – a characteristic shared by the actor Tom Hanks, who plays him in the upcoming film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, set for release in December. 

And business leaders themselves could learn a lot from Mister Rogers. 

Image credit: CityAm

Bullish, bulldozing and bully-boy characters have traditionally been seen to excel in business, while being “nice” is perceived as weak. This couldn’t be further from the truth – kindness engenders respect and followership. It secures loyalty and compels people to go the extra mile for you. 

People like Rogers and Hanks have quietly and consistently set this example for years. “There are three ways to ultimate success,” Rogers once said. “The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

And now, a resurgence of kindness is occurring in the workplace. In a world where businesses and brands need to demonstrate humanity and empathy like never before, kindness can help exceed expectations and strengthen customer loyalty and evangelism. It is also scientifically proven to be contagious, so increases brand virality and a desire for people to respond “in kind”.

Here are three practical ways that you can encourage kindness in the workplace.

REDUCE ANONYMITY

At the start of every episode, Mister Roger sang the show’s theme tune inviting people to be his neighbour. In the same way, we should aspire to make our colleagues feel recognised and valued as individuals. 

Warmly greet people you share a lift with, pass in the corridor, or meet on the commute. Remember their partners’ and children’s names, and be genuinely interested in them and their interests. Knowing people’s passions, hobbies and side hustles is also invaluable when casting for pitches, projects and collaborations.

FIX YOUR MEETINGS CULTURE

Phones and laptops prevent us from giving our undivided attention during meetings. Mobile phones shouldn’t be seen or heard. 

Instead, encourage conversation before and after the meeting starts, and try to avoid silently working on a laptop until everyone arrives. Increasing familiarity among team members boosts productivity, and quite often the best ideas come out of informal conversations. 

Or why not take discussions out of the office altogether? Walk the block to talk through a problem with a client or colleague, and approach a challenge from a fresh perspective. Conversations are always more candid when walking side by side as opposed to facing each other over a boardroom table.

MAKE REFERRALS 

At Superunion, if we don’t feel that we’re right for a client or a candidate, we’ll refer them to someone more suitable – even if it’s a direct competitor. Consider doing the same.

Being genuinely helpful and doing right by them will build your industry reputation – they’ll remember you (as will your competitor), and reciprocity is a powerful tool in modern business.

If I leave you with one thing, it’s a phrase often used by a former, highly successful and universally liked colleague: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”.

Featured in CityAM.