The commercial message for the KIND® protein bar was a smart play on words, “Nice tells you what you want to hear, but kind is honest.”
It brought me back to a time long ago that taught me to be kind, instead of nice.
I was at a software company, and we were having difficulties finding new trainers. We decided to get creative in sourcing and started to add experienced high school teachers with a technical background. It was a bit of a stretch with mixed results.
One of the ex-teacher trainers struggled with meeting our standards of performance. After two years he was still getting weak marks from his class feedback, and measurements of how well the class participants were able to demonstrate the intended skills were also sub-standard.
In reviewing the trainer with my team, the consensus was the employee was a great guy, he enjoyed the company, was liked by his co-workers, but after much coaching and assistance, just wasn’t able to do the job. We couldn’t keep employing him as a trainer.
We decided to transfer him into the Customer Support department, to reward his loyalty, to take advantage of his knowledge of our products, and train him as a Customer Support Representative.
Two years later. Similar results. The employee struggled to manage customer issues and to get prompt and correct answers in the appropriate timeframe.
Again, we huddled on what to do. His assessment was the same. Great guy, a good team member, liked by his co-workers, but after much coaching and assistance, he just wasn’t able to meet the standards of the job. Our customers deserved better.
We transferred him into Quality Assurance in hopes his skills would be more useful there.
Two years later we were back in the same place. With one exception. We had to trim a few positions. And he was the lowest ranked person in Quality Assurance. The former trainer, former Customer Support Rep, and now former QA employee, was laid off.
The employee tried to find new positions with other companies, in Quality Assurance, in Customer Support, and as a trainer. It was not too much of a surprise when he failed to secure a position. Then we heard we let him go three months after his teaching certificate had expired so he couldn’t find a teaching job either.
I felt terrible. But I was trying to be “nice.”
What I learned is the person trying to be nice is self-focused. He (or she) does things to be perceived (by others and by himself) as a “nice person.” “Nice” motivators may often be ego, selfishness, fear, or weakness.
The kind person is focused on the benefit to others, to relieve suffering, or improve the possibilities of those in front of him. And that sometimes means making a painful decision. It often means not feeling “nice” as you sacrifice what feels good to you in exchange for what would bring the highest good for all involved. Letting an employee go to due to lack of performance doesn’t ever make you feel like a “nice person”, but it is the greatest kindness you can offer to his/her colleagues, the organization and its clients.
Be kind. Mastering kindness develops many skills that are an essential part of leadership. Like choosing long-term results over short-term. Giving honest feedback versus spin. Communicating, not just talking numbers.
It was an expensive lesson. For all of us.
If you’d like to know more or can use a coach to help you develop more complete leadership skills, contact me here. After all, your company can only go as far as you can lead it.