Be kind, not nice

Be kind, not nice

“Kind” and “nice” are two very different things.

Puppies are nice. They love everyone, without rhyme or reason, and the world is perfect in their eyes. They are niceness at its most innocent. At its most manipulative, niceness is a mask to facilitate the getting of something — and typically is meant to hide the not-so-nice things. Nothing will make me run faster in the other direction than a person telling me he’s a “nice guy” (whether in a business meeting or on a date).

Kindness, however, is a way of being in the world. It requires self-reflection, and discernment. It is not arbitrary. It has purpose.

Often we spend too much time being nice to accommodate others, while resenting it. (What would they think if we said no?! We can’t have that!) In that, we not only do ourselves a disservice, but we also don’t do them any favors. It’s kinder to say thanks but no thanks — and quickly — than it is to follow along out of being polite. That is the fodder for sitcoms and bad comedies.

In leadership, sometimes the kindest thing you can do to foster someone’s development is to be the opposite of nice.

I once had a young college student working for me, and after I made a very matter-of-fact request to her, illuminating a piece of communication that was missing, she became quite upset. She felt she had been yelled at, and started to cry.

I sat down with her and created a context so that going forward, she would understand where I was coming from. I said, “Listen, if you were training for the Olympics, I would not greet you every morning with a bunny and a hug. I PROMISE that I will make you into a champion, so I have a request of you: Please know that everything coming out of my mouth is in service of your development, and listen from that viewpoint.”

She not only heard me, but she also said, “I cry really easily and am hypersensitive, so I’d like to work on that anyway.” We spent about 6 months together, and today she’s running a Job Corps program for underprivileged youth. She also knows very powerfully who she is as a leader, and as a person in the world. I’m terribly proud of her.

So stop being nice. You’ll get much better results from being kind.