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Why every CEO should show kindness at work

Although it’s been one week since World Kindness Day (13 Nov), it’s important for CEOs to realise that being kind should be an ongoing commitment and obligation. 

Introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of over 25 non-government organisations across the world, World Kindness Day serves as a reminder to be purposeful in showing kindness and giving without expectation.

Although kindness is certainly ingrained into your everyday life, I simply wanted to bring your attention to this special day as additional encouragement to show kindness in some way to a colleague, friend or family member.

Not long after I took over The CEO Circle in 2008 something happened: the Global Financial Crisis. As the knock-on effect of the Lehman Brothers collapse reverberated around the globe, I pondered the decision I had made to go into a business that aimed to support and mentor chief executives and other C-suite leaders.

It wasn’t long until I started to see the very human face of the GFC. We’re used to seeing people like CEOs as stoic and almost unfeeling. I saw a very different side. I saw many wracked by the burden of responsibility for the livelihoods of the people who worked for them. I saw many shattered by the helplessness they felt in the face of this global phenomenon.

I am proud to say that I stood by them, and helped them navigate through some of the most challenging times we have ever faced. In so doing, I reaped an even greater reward than money: gratitude and respect.

Quite often, the most powerful thing I could do for these people was to show a little kindness. It almost seems mundane to say so, but kindness is like a key to the soul. It unlocks the heart and lets light in.

The Greek concept of philotimo is something I’ve tried to live in all aspects of my life, including my work as the Managing Director and CEO of The CEO Circle. Philotimo is a difficult concept to adequately translate into English but I’ll give it a go. It is duty, honour, pride, respect, humility, honesty, courage, personal sacrifice, reciprocity and kindness. It’s being mindful and aware of how your actions and words affect others and changing accordingly. It is self awareness. It’s choosing kindness.

Philotimo and the qualities it encompasses do not always sit comfortably with our prevailing workplace culture. Hardly a day goes by when we are not confronted with horrible stories of poor behaviour in our workplaces. From the corridors of power to the factory floor, we hear reports about sexual harassment and assaults, psychological torment and physical intimidation.

This sickness in our workplaces has a debilitating effect on people and, yes, productivity.

According to a recent Safe Work Australia report, around 33% of women and 20% of men who claim for a mental disorder stated it involved harassment or bullying. Of those bullied, 32.6% said it happened on a weekly basis. The most common forms of harassment reported were: being sworn at or yelled at (37.2%); being humiliated in front of others (23.2%); and being physically assaulted or threatened (21.8%).

For a moment, imagine being bullied or harassed like this on a weekly basis. Maybe you don’t have to imagine it because you are going through it yourself. No one should have to suffer in this way for their work. Awareness of these endemic problems is on the rise, but many of the proposed solutions only address the superficial wounds of hurt and not the underlying causes.

At some point we need to ask what is the value system that drives this culture of hurt and pain? Can it be changed? Can we change? Can we create a culture in which qualities like kindness are not equated with weakness but with strength?

This change in our workplace culture has to be led from the top. CEOs and other leaders have to embrace qualities like kindness for the good of their people and organisations. The old ways of thinking about kindness as a display of weakness or concession need to give way to seeing it as the foundation for productive and trusting workplaces where collaboration is valued above competition. When leaders lead on issues like this, people follow.

Kindness costs nothing. You can be kind in small and big ways. You don’t need an app, or to do a course, or hire a consultant. Go ahead. You’ll be surprised by how good it makes you and those around you feel.

As a leader, you set the standards and ideals in your organisation. Build kindness and compassion into your workplace and you will reap the rewards of a culture that reflects the true spirit of philotimo.

Here are some ways to show kindness in your workplace today:

  • Show compassion: Leaders with compassion and empathy, who can show kindness, are the ones who will move their people to do great things.
  • Show gratitude: It costs nothing to thank someone for their help or support, verbally or in a written note.
  • Be kind to yourself: Take a moment to acknowledge your successes and the positive things you have done.
  • Mentor someone: Encourage them to do the same through their life.
  • Random act of kindness: Show someone you appreciate them with a thoughtful gift.

Always remember, being kind and giving without expectation is its own reward – giving is receiving.

About the author

A passionate thought leader, keynote speaker and facilitator, John Karagounis leads The CEO Circle, Australia’s leading exclusive peer group forum for business leaders. John started his career in the financial services industry, winning numerous State and National awards and eventually found his niche in private wealth management where he held a number of senior executive roles in two of Australia’s leading financial institutions and in a global wealth management business. During his twenty-year career in financial services, he also held a number of board positions and was a true advocate for the industry. John is married to Nicky and they currently live in Melbourne, Australia with their three children, Theo, Peter and Angelica. For more information about John’s new book Why I Wrote This Book: For Greater Success please visit http://www.johnkaragounis.com.

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John Karagounis

John Karagounis

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