This past weekend, my husband and I walked about 10 paces behind Grace as we were ending up our Sunday hike. We had gone out with a small group of people in search of mushrooms, now that spring is here and morels might be out there to be found. We watched her as she kept in perfect step with a virtual stranger. She could smell the doggie treats in his pocket, and on a previous outing with this kind gentlemen, had known him to offer up some of his goodies. She circled him on occasion to alert him that she was there and available to receive evidence of his kindness. Her overwhelming nervousness around people trumps her love for food. As much as she wanted that treat, she was cautious in her approach.
I was reminded of how much kindness matters in the workplace last night when I attended the retirement party of my dear friend, Sue. She has worked at the same company, a well-respected New Hampshire employer, for 41 years (I mean, who works that long at one place anymore?!). The event was attended by more than 100 people, many long-time co-workers, some even retired themselves who had come back to celebrate the occasion with her.
Also in attendance were family and friends who were generously invited to be there for Sue. It was particularly appropriate in Sue’s case that friends be included, and not just because she had so many. But because of the way Sue brought people together and mingled them together, not just as her friends, but that many had become friends to each other. Her kindnesses generated such goodwill amongst and between others, a rare and remarkable outcome of being associated with Sue, and something that might have gone unrecognized if her employer had been stingy with the guest list. (The leadership at this organization clearly shows a great deal of kindness, too.)
I was asked to prepare a few words to say about Sue from the perspective of a friend. And as I thought about that assignment, I realized how difficult it was to speak from that vantage, because Sue viewed everyone as a good friend, no matter whether she knew you from her workplace, from her many interests, or were part of her family. Everyone was treated with the same high standard by Sue.
One woman (who knows Sue from outside of work) spoke to me afterwards and said, “You know, hearing what I’ve heard today, it makes me realize that Sue wasn’t just a good friend to me. She’s a good person at work, too!” She followed that to say that it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it became apparent from everyone’s comments, acknowledging that Sue was an exceptionally kind person to everyone she came in contact with. How rare is that?
I’m not talking about the sappy sweet kindness where you get walked all over. Sue can hold her boundaries as effective as the most domineering person in the room, but she doesn’t do it by dominating.
The irony was not lost on me that Grace is also part of Sue’s wide circle of friends. It’s not just that I have enormous trust in Sue to watch Grace when we travel. Grace trusts her, too, and it has nothing to do with treats in her pockets (though she certainly does offer favorite morsels on occasion.) It has more to do with the consistent, fair, and kind approach that Grace knows to expect from her. Grace also knows that Sue will hold her accountable to behave when she needs to.
I think that’s a powerful lesson for us all, especially managers and leaders, in organizations. Treat others with kindness. Do it consistently. Use treats when you need to. Hold people accountable, too.
Thank you, Sue, from all of us who know and love you. We appreciate your kindness.