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Why don't things 'go kindly' at work? Too much competition!

Despite our best efforts, things don’t always go kindly at work. People bump heads, departments don’t get along, and unkind incidents of all sorts occur. That’s why this week’s Kind Leader focus is on: What to do when things don’t go kindly!

Before we can talk about the steps leaders should take when things don’t go kindly, we need to understand WHY they don’t go kindly. And the underlying reason for most unkindness at work is Fear! When people are fearful, a common expression of that fear is fighting: arguing, butting heads, focusing on winning at all costs. Undermining others' efforts. Gossiping unkindly. And where does fear come from?

Usually, it comes from competition. Competition for that promotion, bonus or raise. Competition for admiration from higher leaders; competition for seemingly “scarce” resources. Organizations, and the way people interact within them, are fraught with competition.

Here's the problem though. When organizations set up “competitive” atmospheres - put people on teams, incentivize winners, punish losers, and rank people - it produces fear. Fear of being the loser, not the winner. And even though we may say “fail faster…fail forward…” people know failure - losing - isn’t really an option. Competition, and the fear of failure, and losing that results, causes people to act unkindly.

So, if you are a leader, and things aren’t going kindly, the first thing to do is look for where the competition that is causing the fear is coming from. Is it coming from a performance management system and process that ranks and compares people. Is it coming from competition for jobs? Is it coming from competition for the coveted quarterly bonus? Once you've found the source of the competition, work to try to eliminate it. Encourage, and model, collaborative, and cooperative interactions instead!

We’ll talk more about specifically how to do that this week!

If you want to learn more, check out Chapters 7 and 8 in The Kind Leader. And don't forget to register for The 5 Key Steps to Solving a Problem Kindly Workshop on April 5th!

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