A couple of weeks ago, I put a poll on social media asking people if they thought kindness was innate (we are born with it), learned, or a combination of both. Most of the people who answered (74%) thought it was a combination of both: innate and learned.
I don't agree. From all the work I've done practicing, studying and writing about kindness and Kind Leadership, I actually think that kindness is learned behavior. As humans, we all have the innate capacity to feel empathy, sympathy and compassion, but turning those feelings into kindness, an action that has the deliberate purpose of creating a positive outcome and affect for another, is learned. How to act kindly (or unkindly) towards others is something we learn from watching the behavior of leaders around us (including our parents, who are our first leaders!)
Because kindness (or unkindness) is learned, it’s something that can be taught through modeling and practice. If our parents model kind behaviors, such as reaching out and hugging someone when they are upset and crying, then we 'see' how to turn our feelings of empathy, sympathy and compassion into an action that helps someone else. And that behavior that we've learned is then reinforced when we practice it ourselves. If our leaders at work model kind behaviors such as checking in frequently to see how are doing (not what we are doing) and then help us overcome difficulties that we are having, we learn how to do that for others. And we will take what we learn back home with us to our families, and put those behaviors into practice when we are in a leadership position, such as coaching our child's sports team, or chairing a community group. The more we practice, the more we learn, and the more we teach others through our kindness.
That’s why The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness is focused on three key areas of practice: Thinking Kindly, Speaking Kindly and Acting Kindly. And why it's full of exercises! Because when you practice the Key Behaviors in each of the Three Key Practice areas, you’ll be helping those you lead at work, at home and in the community, learn how to act kindly towards others, and you’ll be creating a kinder, better world all at the same time!