How a Little Kindness Can Have Big Impact on Your Culture

Everyone wants to be treated kindly. It seems like a no-brainer, but often when we speak about leadership, treating people kindly is overlooked.

Being kind contributes to making others happy. But according to a University of Warwick study, happiness made people about 12 percent more productive. So being kind isn’t just an ethical thing to do; it’s also good for business.

Here are some reasons that leaders should focus on kindness rather than on just being nice, and some tips on how to do so.

What’s the Difference Between Kindness and Niceness?

Many times we think of these two words as interchangeable, but there are differences. “It seems that while ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ carry positive connotations, only the latter indicates an ethical significance,” Kelly Shi writes. While niceness is obviously still a good thing, it’s a bit superficial.

Gay Haskins
, an associate fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and co-editor of Kindness in Leadership, says kindness can be described as three things: a behavior, a virtue and an act. “We talk about acts of kindness, but we probably don’t talk about acts of niceness. … So kind is a ‘doing’ word,” Haskins says.

Experts say leaders need to act with an understanding that their behavior ripples across the organization. A focus on kindness instead of niceness can lead to more authentic relationships and a more positive company culture.

Alexander Lovell, a manager of research and assessment at O.C. Tanner, an employee recognition and reward solutions company, says that although people may differ on their definitions, “kindness is derived from empathy and authenticity while niceness is derived from perception.”

Leaders have a disproportionate effect on employees, particularly because employees emulate what leaders model, Lovell notes. When employees “see their business leaders approach situations with kindness, not simply a nice face and demeanor, it signals that the trait is something the organization values.” Making kindness part of the organization’s values make it front and center in company culture.

He also says that niceness “is about avoiding confrontation.”

Why? “If a leader is simply focused on being ‘nice,’ the employee may never receive the feedback they need to overcome an obstacle and develop further,” Lovell says.

Why Is Kindness Important?

As Haskins and co-author Lalit Johri argued, “Kind actions are praised and remembered: they have a ‘boomerang’ effect, Kindness begets Kindness. Such acts cost nothing to give but create significant value.”

As a leader, kindness leads to you not only being thought of fondly but also helps your bottom line by cultivating a positive work culture.

Research bears that out, according to O.C. Tanner. They conducted research on 10,000 employees in 12 countries. Great culture results in highly engaged employees and increased revenue. For example, 53 percent of organizations who responded are more likely to have highly engaged employees and 27 percent are more likely to have increased in revenue last year. 

Haskins says she believes that once a leader begins doing kind acts, it reverberates across the organization. It can increase loyalty and commitment in some ways — even in creativity and openness, she says.

“In our research, one of the biggest strengths of a leader is authenticity,” Lovell says. “Kind leaders know their employees' strengths, weaknesses, personalities and other character attributes.”

Knowing those aspects of employees and reacting to them in kindness can create a better connection, something vital in retaining employees and keeping them engaged.

How Can You Incorporate Kindness as a Leader?

Getting started with kindness can start with small steps, Haskins says.

“Try doing a kind act in your organization every day for two weeks and see how you feel,” she says. “Try to think of acts of kindness to yourself as well. Haven’t those made a difference to you?”

Overall, Haskins says, leaders should “get a conversation going on kindness.”

Here are some quick ways to add kindness to your leadership style:

  • Don’t be shy about saying hello to colleagues and employees.
  • Vocalize your praise of your employees.
  • Help colleagues when they need that extra assist.
  • Don’t use your higher ranking maliciously. If an employee is of a lower rank, still treat
  • them with respect.
  • Show empathy when dealing with situations.
  • Forgive mistakes that are made on the job.
  • Finally, show your appreciation and thanks to your employees.