Category Archives: Compassion

Why the Attitude? The Business Case for Being Nice

I recently received a call from a frustrated CEO who had concerns about his COO. The COO was brash, antagonistic, and exhibiting a pervasively aggressive disposition. The culture was plummeting and his staff was on the verge of a coup. The CEO and I sat down with the COO to salvage and hopefully remedy the situation.

After I heard the COO’s frustrations, many of which had merit, I dug into why he chose the attack mode. He had excuses and the CEO had retorts, but both seemed to be missing the point. So I went to the heart of issue by asking, “And you couldn’t accomplish this by being nice?” Like many leaders, he equated “nice” with being “weak.” Being a staunch fan of the movie Road House, I could not disagree more.

Road House is one of the greatest films of all time. Starring Patrick Swayze, it’s the story of Dalton, a philosopher hired to clean up bars. This Zen Bouncer ends up at the Double Deuce where we needs to get rid of the sketchy clientele, upgrade the staff, and change the mindset of how to operate a saloon. When retraining the bouncers, Dalton bestows his threes rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.

Be nice? How can a bouncer enforce the rules with the lowlifes who reside in the Double Deuce and be nice? It’s actually a pretty easy, effective way to lead.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [bad name], I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the other [bouncers] will help you, and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

Do you notice that Dalton does not instruct his bouncers to let patrons do whatever they want? Nor does he ease up on the high standards he sets for a safe, family-friendly tavern. No, being nice is about the manner in which things are done, not what you are actually trying to accomplish. This isn’t soft; this is supported by science.

A study by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the most altruistic members of the team gain the highest status, are more frequently preferred as cooperative interaction partners, and receive greater rewards as their virtuous efforts increase.

A Research in Organizational Behavior study concluded that leaders who project warmth are more effective than those leaders who rely on force or competence—“warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.”

Research in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when leaders display behaviors related to self-sacrificing, their employees feel more engaged, committed, and are more likely to go out of their way to support other members of the team.

comprehensive healthcare study found that a culture of kindness not only improves employee productivity but also improves client health outcomes and satisfaction.

All together, the research is clear that a leadership model of trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation can serve as a powerful basis for a company’s culture. Just be nice. Emulate the Zen Bouncer and say, “If somebody underperforms, I want you to be nice. Provide constructive feedback. Be nice. If he won’t take your feedback, be more stern. But be nice. If you can’t turn around his performance, one of the other leaders will help you, and you’ll both be nice.”

Have a Fear of Losing? Self-Esteem Won’t Help, You Need Self-Compassion

What motivates you to pursue success? I’m not referring to money or fame; those are the products of success. What I’m asking is when you set your sights on a new challenge, what thought is going through your head?

On a recent episode of Pod Save America, they were discussing the inner dialogue of an unsuccessful presidential campaign—oversights, skewed approaches, why the candidate’s popularity seems to increase after losing. In regards to Hilary Clinton, one concept I found fascinating is the idea that her campaign and pre-election persona were too restrained and prudent. According to co-host Jon Favreau, this is not a new diagnosis after a failed run for the top office.

They said it about John Kerry after his concession speech. They said it about Mitt Romney after his concession speech. They said it about Al Gore after his concession speech. They said it about John McCain after his concession speech. There is a certain brand of politicians who are too cautious during a campaign and are less cautious after the campaign is over, and that is because they run with an overwhelming fear of losing. And that fear of losing makes them more cautious and calculated.

How many leaders are hampered by their fear of losing? Instead of operating from a position of confidence or positivity, they are focused on not screwing up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more you fixate on the negative outcome, the more likely they are to come to fruition. So how can we stop ‘not losing’ and concentrate on ‘winning’?

We are frequently taught that success stems from self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem is situational. It is linked to social comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and arbitrary self-assessments. In truth, research shows that self-esteem does not cause success; it is the result of success. Therefore, to start thinking like a winner, we need to replace our aspirations for self-esteem with aspirations of self-compassion.
Unlike self-esteem which is concerned with how you evaluate yourself, self-compassion is about how you treat yourself. This has three aspects. First, self-compassion means caring for one’s self with the same benevolence, care, and consideration that you treat those you care about. Being driven, results-focused individuals, we tend to set idealistically high goals and bet ourselves up when we fall short. Hence, we need to practice more self-kindness.

Second, it entails recognition that all people are imperfect. Often when we fail, our initial response is that something has gone wrong, that this shouldn’t be happening. We have this flawed view that everyone else is living a struggle-free life. With self-compassion we can alter how we relate to failure and difficulty by turning “poor me,” into “I’m not the only one.”

Finally, self-compassion involves mindfulness, a willingness to acknowledge our suffering. This may seem counter to a “winning” mindset, but denying the pain does not mean you aren’t feeling it. Maintain an accurate reading of your emotions so you can deal with them and move on.

Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, fi
rst proposed the concept of self-compassion in 2003. Since then, her research has shown that self-compassion is significantly associated with every indicator of psychological well-being.

Self-compassion yields greater emotional stability, resilience, life satisfaction, and a more optimistic perspective. The self-compassionate respond more adaptively to negative events with less pessimism, cynicism and self-critical thoughts and experience fewer negative emotions. And they experience lower amounts of stress, anxiety, and guilt.

Remember that fear of losing? Well self-compassion has also been found to enhance motivation. When people with greater self-compassion fail, they are less afraid of failure. In one study, after participants failed a test, they were coached to be more self-compassionate. Later, when they had the opportunity re-take the test, they studied longer than people who were not told to be self-compassionate.

Self-compassion filters how we respond to setbacks, thereby freeing us up to take risks and remain true to our convictions. Without the burden of hypercritical thoughts we can stop focusing on reducing distress and instead manage the actual issue.

And good news! We can learn to be more self-compassionate. Studies have found that even brief exercises instructing people to think about a problem in a self-compassionate manner have positive effects.

Step 1: Identify instances in which you are not being nice to yourself. Does your internal monologue tend to be negative? Are you punishing yourself when things don’t go your way?

Step 2: Determine why you are so self-callous. Do you think being hard on yourself is motivating? And if so, how badly do you need to feel in order be motivated? While negative thoughts can help us to manage behaviors, those with low self-compassion make themselves feel much worse than needed. Recognize when your sentiments cross from constructive into destructive.

Step 3: Stop it. When bad things happen, remind yourself that everyone fails, is rejected, humiliated, or experiences a multitude of other less-than-desirable happenings. Practice some self-kindness by being nice to yourself. Don’t lower the bar, but don’t beat yourself up when trying to reach it either.

Have a fear of losing? Stop trying to build self-esteem and start developing your self-compassion. Unlike the self-admiration of self-esteem, self-compassion does not depend on viewing yourself positively or even liking yourself. It is not contingent on failing or succeeding. And it won’t diminish when you experience a low point. So be compassionate to yourself so you can concentrate on winning, not avoiding catastrophe.

Three Ways Jimmy Kimmel Can Make Us a Better Leader

jimmy-kimmel-bannerI love a good underdog success story. If you’re familiar with Jimmy Kimmel’s history, you know that before he was one of the “big three” in late night television, he had his share of professional setbacks. Kimmel started his career in radio where he was fired numerous times—he and his wife moved every year for the first six years of marriage. Kimmel eventually worked his way into the Los Angeles market and his career took off.

In a recent Success article, Kimmel discussed his leadership philosophy and how he manages as both host and Executive Producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live!. For those of us looking for ways to be a more effective leader, you’d be wise to consider these three lessons.

#1 Punctuality

Kimmel places a high value on being early for scheduled events.

I think it is disrespectful when you are late. My boss, Bob Iger [Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company], is probably the only person who gets more done than I do, and he’s usually at his office at 5am every day… It’s also the reason why he’s my boss and not the other way around [Kimmel jokes].

Being prompt is more than a time management tool. It shows others that you are dependable, considerate, and organized. It also displays your discipline and sets the example for the rest of the team.

#2 Emotional Generosity

Kimmel’s dad was a high school dropout who ultimately earned a college degree and moved up American Express’ corporate ladder to become a senior vice president. After retiring, the CEO of American Express called Kimmel.

The only reason why he contacted me was to tell me how much, how well-liked my father was and how hard a worker he was [Kimmel begins to tear up]. I’m sorry—I’m very emotional about this because it was a very cool thing to do… My dad doesn’t even work for him anymore. He was not in the stratosphere at American Express. He came from nothing. But this man reached out to me to let me know how valuable he was to the company.

You cannot underestimate the power of small gestures of gratitude and recognition. To experiment with this, at your upcoming holiday party, make an effort to tell every employee’s spouse one nice thing about their work performance. You’ll impress your employees and create whole new base of supporters.

#3 Displaying Kindness

I mentioned generosity of words, but generosity of tangible rewards should not be ignored. When Kimmel worked at the legendary radio station KROQ, the morning team had a ratings bonus structure in their contract; Kimmel did not. Knowing Kimmel’s value to the team, the program director handed Kimmel a check from his personal account for $500.

It’s one thing to give out raises someone else is paying for, but when you reach into your own pocket, well, that’s something I’ll never forget.

Two years later, when Kimmel was offered his own show at another radio station with a substantial raise, he turned it down because the program director’s kind act, amongst others, generated an intense loyalty.

And that $500 cost me $140,000. Actually $280,000, because it was a two-year contract. So it was an excellent investment on his part.

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this method. Early in my career, I was fortunate to work for a division leader who planned a “meeting” in Biloxi. After going through the sparse agenda, he thanked us for the last year and handed each of us an envelope with cash. While most of us gambled it away in the hotel casino, the unwarranted gesture was not forgotten.

When you read these three lessons, it is evident that Kimmel is not using his leadership role to boost his dominance over others. He breeds a culture where his staff are fiercely loyal to him, not because he’s a star, but because his leadership is based on humility and treating others with respect. Kimmel does not have to work this hard, he chooses to because that is how he views the role of the leader. Can you imagine if your workplace operated this way?

As a side note, my apologies to Matt Damon. I was also going to write about him, but I’ve run out of space.

Kelly Ripa on Open Communication

kelly ripaHow do you inform your team of organizational changes? Do you give some advanced notice before it is going to take place? Maybe provide a few hints so it is not such a surprise? Or do you drop the preverbal bomb with little to no warning? If you lean towards the third option, consider this cautionary tale from ABC.

There has been some drama on daytime television and it didn’t come from the soaps. On Live! co-host Michael Strahan announced he was leaving to join Good Morning America. The problem is that Kelly Ripa, his co-host, was informed of this revelation mere minutes before Strahan was going to proclaim his good news on air. She was not pleased and did not appear on the show for a few days.

I think what people need to understand about the entire situation is that I didn’t just not show up. I said, in the room, ‘I am going to take the day off.’ I needed to actually sit and gather information. I needed to make sure I said the appropriate things on TV and didn’t just come out and say whatever.—Kelly Ripa

This was not the first time Ripa has been blindsided by ABC executives. A similar thing happened when Regis Philbin announced his retirement in 2011. The only difference is that when Philbin left, Ripa was in the more junior position to Philbin. Today, she is the lead and was intentionally left out of the loop.

As leaders, we often wrestle with what, how much, and when information should be shared. I’ve often struggled after terminating an employee where I wish I could explain more to the team but, out of the respect for the individual who left, I convey a more general message. It would be so much easier to display the personnel file illustrating the number of conversations, warnings, and developmental opportunities that took place before the difficult decision was made to let someone go.

In Strahan’s case, I understand why the negotiations were kept under wraps. What if Ripa became jealous of Strahan’s move? What if it leaked to the press? What if there were rumors that Strahan was unhappy at Live!? Could this hurt his reputation or affect viewership? And what if negotiations fell apart and he stayed at Live!? I also see Ripa’s side. She’s been with the show and the network for over 15 years, and in the lead chair for the last five years. Shouldn’t this garner some degree of respect?

To their credit, Ripa’s executive bosses, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group and his leadership team, immediately owned their misstep and personally apologized to both Ripa and Strahan. It was the right reaction, but has the damage been done? How long will it take for Ripa to trust management again?

I’m not dealing with monsters. I don’t think of anybody as a monster or out to get me…When you’re dealing with big business, it’s easy to forget that you’re dealing with people and that people have feelings. It’s easy to just look at it like a business unit.—Kelly Ripa

As a result of Live! and the many similar situations we face, I’d like to advocate for more open communication. Some may try to take advantage of this display of vulnerability, but as Brene Brown said in her TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, vulnerability is not synonymous with being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it denotes the courage to be yourself. This means embracing doubt, risk, and emotional exposure so as to allow for authentic relationships.

Open communication establishes the trust leaders need to attain greater engagement, loyalty, and productivity. Leaders are seen as being more dependable and the team feels more motivated. Conflicts may occur based on this increase in information, but it is easier to resolve a conflict where there is a foundation of trust versus reactively trying to clean up a mess stemming from distrust.

Before you institute your next organizational transformation, consider the feelings of the people on your team. This will not change your plan, but it may change the way you communicate it to those involved. Familiarize them with your strategy, address their concerns, and give them more than 15 minutes to acclimate before announcing it in national television.

Weekender: Mr. T on Pitying Fools

THE A-TEAM -- Pictured: Mr. T as Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank

Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a link of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a link (versus the full necklace)? Because it’s the weekend!

On April Fools Day, we must pay homage to the man who has been pitying fools since I can remember. Mr. T is an icon. His signature look mixed with his positive message has impacted many people since he emerged in the 1970s. One role that stood out, aside from a personal favorite in The A-Team, was as Clubber Lang in Rocky III.

In Rocky, Mr. T first uttered his famous “I pity the fool.” With his imposing presence, this may sound like a threat. It could also be perceived as a form of contempt, a way to patronize while appearing polite, like when someone from the south says, “Bless her heart.”* Mr. T’s intent, however, is far more beneficial.

I’ve been in the pity business for many years. Everybody I pity is not a fool, and all fools I don’t pity… When I pity anybody, I’m showing them mercy. Pitying is showing mercy, so take away the hate, there’s enough going on, and show some compassion. Because pitying means you’re gonna give them a break. You’re gonna let them slide.

For anyone in a leadership position, you are bound to be faced with someone who makes a mistake. At this instant, you have a choice. Option one is to write them off. This may include doubting their capabilities or mental abilities, and/or dismissing them as insignificant, a nonperformer, or unengaged.

Option two is to pity the fool. This involves listening to their side to determine why they made that particular decision. You can then develop constructive solutions to help them learn from the situation so they don’t make the same mistake again.

Take the Mr. T approach to leading others. Pity and improve other’s performance. Take an active role in making them better at their job. If they don’t take advantage of your wisdom and advice, bless their heart. However, if they do improve, you’ll have one less fool on your team to pity.


*In case someone has ever said “Bless your heart” to you, there’s no “blessing” taking place. This is a southern way of saying, “You are an idiot but I care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.” For instance, I once heard a manager say, “She doesn’t know how to reboot a computer, bless her heart.”