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Be Hard on the Process. Be Kind to People!

Last weekend, I made a quick, overnight trip to Philadelphia to meet up with my daughter and her partner! At the hotel, there was a long lineup to check in, and only one person working the front desk. When I got to the front of the line, the front desk clerk told me my room wasn’t ready (I was 15 minutes before check in time) and asked me to come back after 4:00 pm. She said she would be happy to hold my bags if I wanted to go out and explore for a while. I could see from the frazzled look on her face that she was exhausted…and worried... I looked at the long line of people behind me, and realized that she was probably going to be saying exactly the same thing to them…and that many would probably be unhappy, and maybe some would even be unkind to her.

So, instead of complaining, I decided to give her a Love and Kindness Button instead. I said, “I worked in customer service for a long time. I know how hard it is! Thank you for trying your best to help me.” She perked right up and replied, “Thank you so much! You don’t know how much this means to me…and how much I needed it today! I don’t make the rules, but I have to follow them. I really need this job and it’s so hard sometimes.”

After my trip, when I got home, I sent a note to the hotel leadership about my experience with the check in process. (The line to check in was over an hour long when I arrived back!) I reminded them that not only was the process unpleasant for customers, it was unkind for their employees. That's because the employees couldn't do anything to change the check in process. They had to do it the way they were mandated and taught. Even when it meant that customers were inevitably going to be upset and angry. Maybe you are familiar with saying: Be hard on the process - be soft on people. (Or, as a I always say, "Be hard on the process and be kind to the people".) This experience really made me think of that. As a leader, it’s unkind if you don’t make sure that your team members have what they need to support them in being successful: good processes, the right tools and resources, adequate and ongoing training, to name a few. Because no employee wants to be in the uncomfortable and unpleasant situation of making customers unhappy and being worried about how they will respond.

As I waited my turn in line, I was also conscious of how many children were waiting with their parents. Sometimes, we only think of leaders as people we report to or who direct our work. We don't think that as a parent or guardian of a child, we are their leader, and that they are taking their cues of how to act and speak to others from how we do. If I (or one of the adults waiting in line) had shouted or used unpleasant language with the front desk clerk, what model would those children have been given about how to treat those that are working to serve them? And when they grew up, how would they act? Often, we aren't as conscious of when we are wearing our Leader Hat, as we should be.

So today, if you aren’t happy with service you receive, please remember that you can be “hard on the process” by sending a note about your experience to the company's leadership, or by making sure that those who follow you have what they need to be successful. Please also remember that you don’t have to scream or yell or take out your frustration on the person serving you. It's unkind to them, and models terrible behavior to those who are following you. You can deliberately choose to do the opposite and model kindness, and kind leadership, instead!


To learn more about how to handle difficult leadership situations with kindness, please see Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness.

And if you would like some Love and Kindness Buttons to give out, you can order them at!

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