2015 Conference Management & Professional Development

Be Kind, For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle #MPD1

In the past, leaders might be described as tough and no-nonsense. Today, words like empathy and vulnerability are associated with leadership. That was the idea behind John Wagner’s Management and Professional Development Track session, that building personal relationships at work helps team members work toward a common goal.

John began the session with a question: what would you do if an employee/colleague started working about a third less than he or she usually did? As in – someone suddenly isn’t pulling their weight.

After taking some audience answers (that ranged from inquiring if something was wrong to a very honest ‘I’d probably be resentful’) John shared a very personal story about family health issues coinciding with a family milestone – a story that ended with a surprisingly kind gesture from a manager: a private jet ride.

John reminded us that work relationships—although there are still boundaries—need to be personal too. “I’m human, you’re human,” he says, adding that in situations where an employee might not be performing at their best that we should consider this notion: “Address the hurt first.”

Sometimes, he adds, people will use work as a shelter. For example, maybe someone going through a divorce will stay at work longer hours because there’s nowhere else to go. The workplace, John says, is a place of lower emotional and physical problems than anywhere else.

The golden nugget of John’s presentation is perhaps this: The entire secret of becoming a supportive colleague is this question:

“How are you doing?” – and he repeated that question with different emphasis on different words to show how compassionate a phrase that can be.

The answer to this question is not meant to be work related. How are YOU doing?

And then shut up and listen.

Maybe someone won’t answer that right away, but, as one attendee in the audience pointed out during an open discussion at the end of the presentation, “They will remember that you asked.”

That leads to John’s other point about kindness in the workplace. He says that, no matter what and no matter how long we work somewhere, we WILL leave a legacy behind. What will yours be?

At the end of the session, attendees used the remaining time to share experiences – and those will be kept in that room. John, probably very similar to his own workplace, made sure to make this session room a safe place to share—and it will be why part of this session’s audio will not be available on the podcast version.

The workplace culture we create affects everything we do. Kindness might not be something we always think of as a management trait, but, as John Wagner says, we should. It can make a huge difference in teamwork, productivity and job satisfaction.


IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Martin

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By Donna Talarico

Donna Talarico, a Red-Stapler-winning HighEdWeb presenter and volunteer editor for Link, is an independent writer and content strategist. She is the marketing columnist for Wiley's Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners, and her work has also been published in CASE Currents, The Guardian Higher Education Network, and elsewhere. From 2010 to 2015, she told the Elizabethtown College story as part of an award-winning marketing and communications team. Always a storyteller, before higher ed she worked in print and broadcast media, and for a leading eCommerce company. She is the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, a bimonthly creative nonfiction journal and small press. She loves road trips, board games, greasy spoon diners, and words.