Me? I’d wish for a kinder and gentler workplace. That phrase should be familiar to most of us Americans. In August of 1988, candidate George H. W. Bush received his party's nomination for president of this country. And in his acceptance speech, Mr. Bush called for a "kinder, gentler nation.”
He added in that same message, “I say it without boast or bravado, I’ve fought for my country, I’ve served, I’ve built. And I will go from the hills to the hollows, from the cities to the suburbs to the loneliest town on the quietest street to take our message of hope and growth for every American to every American.” Almost everyone who knew the former president would tell you this mindset was woven into his character.
Unfortunately, it is missing from many workplace leaders. The gravitational pull of self interest often yields unkind and harsh realities for the people who work for them. You’d think conscience would cause some to step back and reconsider the damage done. Or that ghosts of past, present, and future would add a haunting reality to their world.
I don’t know enough about the inner workings of Bain Capital to make judgment on their practices. Others have done such research and the company has been found wanting on values. Some have gone so far as to describe their activities as corporate raiding. Mitt Romney took a hit with that claim. Carl Icahn has been a long standing member of buying and selling businesses for his own wealth while leaving others in the dust of unemployment. (see links below)
The “kinder, gentler” workplace issues that concern me go beyond corporate raiding. They are at more manageable levels with companies of all sizes. It has to do with the way you perceive employees as real people. This approach understands that a culture that ignores human need and shows little compassion reveals a serious weakness in core values.
It shows up in various ways. Does management give healthy feedback for improvement? Do teams actually function as teams—not as a gathering of minds or bodies without unified purpose and clear direction? When cuts have to be made, are the consequences and processes weighed carefully from a “kinder, gentler” perspective?
A few months ago, Reva Seth submitted an article for Fast Company titled, “How to build a kinder workplace when its leaders don’t.” The subtitle accurately states, “It’s the job of leaders to build supportive, empathetic work cultures. But there’s a lot ordinary employees can do, even when their bosses shirk that duty.”
Reva offered several suggestions including:
1. Add an act of kindness to your daily to-dos. This might be as simple as checking in on fellow employees to see how they’re doing.
2. Listen more mindfully (“building a kinder workplace is all about creating an environment where people can be seen, appreciated, and valued for who they really are.”)
3. Choose the reactions you can control: your own. We can’t control weather, but we can control how we interact with one another.
Ideally, these are values that a company builds into an organization. My experience tells me most organizations fall short. Perhaps they need a little coaching. Or start hiring people who actually care.
The words of Jesus should guide us here, “Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them—this is the essence of all true religion.” (Matthew 7:12, Phillips)
Things like that made Jesus seem like a radical! Yeah. Let me be like that.
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