I’ve done a lot of presentations and workshops over the years. Some of them have had very memorable moments. But one stands out above all others.
I was doing a Leadership Workshop several years ago for the leadership team of an organization that had some “opportunities” for improvement. I got to the point in the workshop where we discussed some of the key characteristics of Authentic Leadership. I made the point, which I strongly believe, that you can care for people without leading them but you cannot lead people without caring for them.
The key leader in the organization was seated in the front row. He looked at me and said he wanted to make a comment. I had no idea what he was about to say but my workshops tend to be a “say whatever is on your mind” kinda workshop so I said go ahead.
He turned toward the back and the room and motioned towards everyone else in the room, the vast majority of them worked for him. He then looked back at me and said, “look at these people, you expect me to care about them? Why would I do that? Just look at them.”
As a presenter there are several ways to handle that kind of comment. I could have let it slide. I could have confronted him about it directly or I could have let the group handle it for me. I knew going in that the group had no respect for this key leader who was clearly a leader in name only. So I decided to give them the opportunity to respond directly to him.
I answered that yes, I fully expect you to care for the people you lead but my opinion wasn’t that important. What was really important was the opinion of the people you’re supposed to be leading, so let’s see what they have to say.
I then asked if anyone from the group had anything to say. Now this “leader” was a bully. A tyrant in every sense of the word. So it would take some courage to speak up and one person had that courage almost immediately.
It was what she said that has stuck with me to this day. It was a very short comment but one of the most impactful I’ve ever heard. She delivered the comment in a matter of fact fashion served up on a plate of humility. It wasn’t meant to be hurtful, and the truth was this “leader” had an EQ of zero so I don’t think anything anyone said to him could be hurtful anyway.
She said, “I will be nice to you because I’m a nice person. But I won’t be kind to you because you are not a kind person.”
There was no reaction from the key leader and the rest of them room was silent. I made a couple of comments about the importance of showing the people we lead that we care for them. A reality of leadership is that people won’t care to follow a leader who doesn’t care for them first.
We moved on but the comment has stayed with me. Among other things it got me to thinking about the difference between being nice and being kind. We often use the words interchangeably but it turns out they are far from the same.
Being nice to others is easy. It doesn’t cost us a thing. We only need to use the good manners our parents taught us. Being nice involves saying things like “thank you” whenever the opportunity presents itself. It means saying please and you’re welcome whenever that opportunity presents itself too. A smile and saying Good Morning is an example of being nice.
So about now you’re thinking you’re a pretty nice person. I’m sure you say please and thank you, you may even toss in a “you’re welcome” now and then. But do you use those words and phrases at EVERY opportunity? I’m sure you did when your waiter or waitress set that glass of water or basket of bread down on your table.
Wait, what? You say that’s their job. So what, you can say thank you to someone because they are doing their job? You’ll have a hard time leading people with an attitude like that.
Being nice costs you nothing. You only have to make the conscious choice to be nice at every opportunity. And realize there are LOTS of opportunities that we miss.
Being kind on the other hand takes some effort. It likely has some cost to it, even if that cost is only in terms of time. Giving someone a ride is showing kindness. Taking someone shopping or picking up a coffee for someone on the way to work is showing kindness.
If you’re doing someone for someone that requires extra time or effort that is being kind. If everything you do benefits only yourself then others may not see you as kind. They may be right. Ask yourself, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone…without expecting anything in return?
So now that you understand the difference let me ask again. Are you a nice person or a kind person? The only “correct” answer is of course both. But if you pay attention to your thoughts and actions you may realize that you have some work to do in both areas.
I can guarantee you that I do.