Interview with Karyn Ross on Lean and Kind Leadership


My guest for Episode #427 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is a returning guest, Karyn Ross. She was previously a guest in Episodes 266 and 411. She was also my guest for Episode #3 of My Favorite Mistake.

Karyn has a new book called The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust, and Leading with Kindness. Scroll down for a 20% coupon you can use if you buy through the publisher. You can also enter to win a copy.

Today, We Talk The Book And More, With Topics And Questions Including:

  • How do you define kindness?
  • NPR story on the kindest family
  • How do we help people understand that kindness is not a sign of weakness? 
  • My Favorite Mistake (out Thursday) Moses Harris interview Episode #110
  • How much unkind behavior is driven by people being scared? “Vicious circle of fear”
  • “Collaboration, cooperation and kindness” chapter heading — reminds me of how Dr. Deming used to rail against competition — and I think that's especially true when talking about internal competition
  • Systemic root causes of fear and unkind behavior — Kind leaders can affect the system…
  • Kindness and respect? Connections to Lean in the book
  • A time when someone was kind to you at work?
  • Recent KaiNexus webinar on psychological safety… also proven to drive results
  • Blaming instinct…What do you mean by “always assume positive intent”? – examples?
  • Negativity bias
  • “Prefectionism isn't Kind” online workshop with Amy Mervak
  • Little Kind Words Talk Show — lessons learned from that?
  • Doing live streaming — “practice accepting what is”
  • We're always learning… what have you learned about kindness since the book was published?
  • “Pop up kindness stand”? — WSJ article

The podcast is sponsored by Stiles Associates, now in their 30th year of business. They are the go-to Lean recruiting firm serving the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare industries. Learn more.

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Karyn Ross, Lean and Kind Leadership

LBI Karyn Ross | Kind Leadership

Welcome to episode 427. My guest is Karyn Ross. Thanks for reading.

We have a returning guest, a good friend of ours here on the show, Karyn Ross. Karyn, how are you?

I'm fabulous, Mark and even more fabulous because I'm a returning guest on the show.

I'm happy you're back and that you're happy to be back. I almost want to say Karyn Ross requires no introduction to this audience but I'm going to do so a little bit anyway. Karyn has been on the show before. We've done a livestream. She's the Owner of KRC, Karyn Ross Consulting. She is one of what they call the founding mothers of a group called Women in Lean – Our Table. It's a global group of more than 750 Lean practitioners. She's the Founder and President of The Love and Kindness Project Foundation. I'm wearing this nifty pin that Karyn has sent me before. It helps represent the foundation. She's also the Founder of The New School for Kind Leaders.

I realized as I've been putting this together that it's a lot of things. I've been thinking, “How could I describe myself in one sentence?” I am saying I'm an activator. I'm activating people who create a kinder, better world. It's super important to me that we don't just think or talk about kindness but we act with kindness.

That's a way of summarizing as your bio reads, artist, speaker, author, consultant, coach and practitioner. Activator is a good word for that. Karyn was also a guest for episode three of My Favorite Mistake. Thank you again, Karyn, for doing that.

You are very welcome. I love telling that story. If people haven't tuned into that one, I'm going to ask them to please go and do that. It's one of my favorites.

Thank you for doing that. I will continue to demonstrate my mistakes but I'll try to be kind to myself because we all stumble over something when we read it. Karyn, congratulations again on the launch of the book. It's published through Productivity Press and it is called The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading With Kindness. This is not a theoretical academic tone. No offense to academic books. I do hope people will read the book but to touch on a few topics that are inside, first off, Karyn, how do you define kindness? That's a word we all know but we might use it a little differently.

When I was doing the research for the book and writing the book, I asked people if they would be willing to be interviewed and 28 fabulous people stepped forward. A question that I asked all of them was, “How do you define kindness?” When I asked that question, there was generally silence. I can see people looking up and they thought for a moment. They then would tell me about a kind act or something kind.

I realized that people have a lot of difficulty defining kindness. When I put together all the different things that people told me, here's the definition that you'll find in The Kind Leader book. Kindness is the act that we do or the words that we speak. It's an action that connects our internal feelings and thoughts of empathy and compassion.

The kindness is the act that we do in response to those feelings of empathy and compassion that are undertaken purposefully to make something better for somebody else. Thinking about the suffering that someone else is going through, the desire to help them with that, that's internal to us. It's not kindness. The actual thing we do, the word we speak, the response we have to that person, that's what kindness is.

I shared with Karyn that there was an NPR story about a family that had received recognition for kindness. It was one of the family members who talked about the difference between being nice and being kind. It seems like that focus on the action as you stated it. If I remember right, that's how they differentiated that. Niceness is maybe a little more passive or less actively involved in kindness to you. What are your thoughts on that?

It's important that we have discussions around being nice and being kind because oftentimes, what I hear is that people think that kindness has to do with weakness when it's the opposite. Kindness, especially in leadership, requires a huge amount of strength. For example, we have a team member who maybe is underperforming and we're thinking maybe we want to move them off our team or we want to let them go.

People think that kindness has to do with weakness, when it's the opposite. Kindness, especially in leadership, requires a huge amount of strength. Share on X

The nice thing to do might be to go to them, give them some excuses and say, “We're moving you off into this role because we think you'll add value,” whatever it is. The kind thing to do, which requires a lot of strength, is to sit down with the person and say, “Here are the things that I've seen,” in a way that doesn't tear the person down, break their heart or hurt them as a person. Explain to them what's going on, the truth of the situation.

Listen with open eyes, ears, mind and heart to see what is going on with them and figure out how you can help them. With that action, how you can help them? It still may mean moving them off your team but that takes a huge amount of strength. If we're not kind, how's that person going to learn, grow and improve?

Right at the beginning of chapter one of the book, you cite Colin Powell, who was a four-star general Secretary of State who says, “Kindness is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of confidence.” I agree with that.

If General Colin Powell does not think that kindness is a weakness, that is pretty much enough authority for me to agree as well. Think about times in your life when you've had to do difficult things or think about a difficult conversation you have with someone or maybe you're overcome with emotion. The easy thing to do is shout at someone, disconnect from someone and blame someone else.

That's a weakness. We lose our temper in weakness. To be kind to someone, to think or feel that empathy. “What could be going on with this person? Let me put myself in their shoes. They're going through this hard time. I can see they're having some mental health struggles.” I feel compassionate about it. To be like, “Let me see what I could do to help the person,” takes an awful lot of strength. That is a lot harder to do.

That phrase, “Losing your temper,” says a lot in those words that we weren't able to maintain control over our reactions. I remember this is something the late Stephen Covey would talk about as others do separating, putting an intentional gap between stimulus and response. You think of online discussion and they don't use these words exactly but someone says, “You're a doody head.” It's tempting to fire back. It's a reflex.

That reptile part of our brain takes over. One of the things that I talk a lot in the book is about neuroscience which causes us to assume negative intent. To look at something or hear something, our ancient selves wanted to protect ourselves. We think about things negatively but be kind. We have three key kind leader practices, think kindly, speak kindly, act kindly, each with three key behaviors.

The first key behavior of think kindly is to assume positive intent. To do that, we're going to have to pause and check our thoughts regularly because we are neurologically on the default to assume negative intent. If we automatically think, “If I'm kind, people are going to see that as a weakness. They're going to walk all over me,” we have to look at ourselves and say, “I am assuming negative intent.”

If they do try to walk over you, that's on them. You shouldn't blame yourself for that, maybe.

Absolutely not. The truth is I have not experienced a lot of people who have tried to walk all over me. I've experienced more people who are kind and nice and who went and approached with an open mind and heart at work. They're doing their best in difficult situations. I haven't found people a lot of times that have tried to walk all over me.

If your kindness and actions are driven by the strength and somebody wants to assume otherwise, then they may learn. If they're trying to walk over you, you're not letting them.

This goes back to the difference between kind and nice. Being kind doesn't mean I have to say yes all of the time. Being kind doesn't mean that I have to do things that I don't feel like doing or that don't go with my values. Being kind means that I have to consider someone else. I have to put myself in their shoes. I should see what they need.

Being kind doesn't mean saying 'yes' all the time and doing things you don't feel like doing. Being kind means considering someone else, putting yourself in their shoes, and seeing what they need. Share on X

If I decide that the answer that I want to give someone is no, I can do it in a way that doesn't make the other person feel terrible. I don't have to say, “That's the dumbest idea I ever heard. I don't want to do something like that.” I can say, “That doesn't fit in with my values. Thank you very much for asking me to do this. It's not an opportunity that I want now.” That's a kind way to do that.

There are kind ways to do a lot of things. I interviewed somebody. It's an episode of My Favorite Mistake. Moses Harris is his name for people who want to look at that episode. He was working his way through college. He was working at an insurance company and he was fired for cause. He never understood what the cause was. He told the story and I'll summarize it. He was trying to help set up in a large meeting room, something about the projector. That was not part of his job. He was trying to be helpful. There was a vice president and she was having trouble. He was trying to help.

It's not like there was some big blow-up but then after the fact, it got back to him, “This VP is very upset at you and the way you treated her.” He and the other people around that he knew were trying to debrief and figure out. He couldn't figure it out. He got called into her office and was forced to apologize. He didn't know what he was apologizing for. He got fired because the apology wasn't sincere enough. That was all such an unkind act. Not even just the firing but the confusion and the doubt. What an unkind thing to do to him in his first professional job.

A lot of it stems from leaders who tend to be focused on results, the ends. You'll find a lot about focusing on the means in The Kind Leader book. The ends or results tend to be things. Whether it's profits or gaining growth and more customers, the people we think about in businesses, leaders tend to be focused on those ends.

LBI Karyn Ross | Kind Leadership
The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust, and Leading with Kindness

When the ends don't look like they're going to turn out right, that creates fear for those people. What happens when we're in fear? Flight, fight, freeze and that older part of our brain takes over. When people are afraid, they focus on themselves. Kindness, remember, is focusing on others, having empathy and compassion, putting yourself in their shoes and seeing things not from your point of view but from their point of view. It takes more strength and time to do that. It takes an understanding of, “I need to be a little less self-centered.” That's difficult.

The focus has to change for leaders to lead with kindness. It's not that they should forget about the ends. They shouldn't. The thing is we have to make sure our customers get what they want but they have to say, “At this moment, my focus needs to be on the person who, if I didn't have this person here, would there be no ends to have?” That fear we all have gets translated to, “Let me do something to get rid of this other person,” versus, “Let me deal with my fear.”

I'm guessing and I wasn't there and I don't mean to play armchair psychologist but part of the root of it, the best that Moses ever got this explained to him was that he made the VP look bad. Some people have a fear of thinking, “I'm higher up in the organization. I must be more infallible, perfect and all-knowing.” He may have exposed that fact. It maybe sounds like fear caused her to react in terms of, “I need to get rid of that person and punish them.”

Maybe he should have pulled her aside and explained it or maybe it was the tone. He doesn't know. There was such a coaching opportunity there where this vice president could've called him into the office and said, “Let's have a discussion of like, ‘Is this a good way to frame it? When you did this, it made me feel like that.'” That's maybe a little too vulnerable. Some people don't like talking about their feelings that way at work.

Let's think though also about what fear is. I always say it's a cause and a result. There's a whole cycle here, which we talk about in the book called the vicious circle of fear. First of all, I'm focused on me. I'm not focused on others. When we're afraid, it's very easy for us to act in an unkind way.

Maybe the reptile brain makes us focus on ourselves. That's the survival instinct.

In an organization in which there's a culture of fear, if you look closely, you're not going to find that much kindness. What you're going to find is why people are afraid. They're afraid that if they're not perfect or they do things wrong, something's going to happen. They're going to get demoted, get a poor performance review or get fired. That causes them to act in all kinds of unpleasant ways to protect themselves. That fear goes in a cycle because when I'm acting in an unkind way, it's going to create more fear.

A lot of the basis of this, and I look forward to people reading the book, is competition. We don't know that person's situation. Maybe that vice president was competing for another position and then you think, “Somehow, I've looked bad. Maybe I'm not going to get that position.” Nobody wants to be the loser. We set up systems in which people are winners or losers. If you're worried about being the loser, maybe you're not going to act kindly. If you're the winner, you're worried that next time, next bonus, promotion or election you're going to be the loser. You might still act kindly. Unfortunately, those failures of kindness and leadership cause devastating impacts on all of us.

There's a lot that you say and write about that reminds me of what Dr. Deming always taught. He said we need to eliminate fear. He talked a lot about eliminating competition. In particular, internal competition. He said some things that some people find controversial about how even competition in a market can be sub-optimizing or maybe bad for society. Let's think back to internal situations like you brought up, Karyn, where people are sometimes very consciously pitted against each other or divisions, teams or departments are pitted against each other. That seems like that would then lead to a lot of fear and unkindness.

We can even see it in smaller units. We tend to divide up people even in the same department into teams. We're like, “Everybody gets a team name and a team identity.” When your team is worried about, “Our stats, we want to be the winning team and get the whatever Monday motivation trophy is on Monday,” when a customer calls and they're on someone else's team, maybe you're less likely to help them. Here's that competition. Your team isn't going to win. That's not kind. A lot of these problems are systemic problems. The cycle repeats itself over and over again. Our leader was unkind to us. As I say in the book, “We all are leaders at different times in the day, at different places in our life.”

We all are leaders at different times in the day and at different places in our lives. Share on X

We may not have a leader title at work but we go home and we're a single parent and we're the head of our family. We go to our child's sports team and we're the coach. When we put on our leader hat, we lead in a way that's been modeled to us by our leaders. We have our fabulous friend, Deandre Wardell. I was talking to her about the book and this vicious circle of fear.

I said, “Remember that old cartoon where the boss yells at the employee, the employee goes home and yells at their spouse, the spouse yells at the child, the child kicks the dog?” She said, “Yes, but it doesn't end there. That child goes to school and bullies the other child. That child grows up and they become the boss that yells at the employee.” That whole vicious cycle systemically repeats itself.

Dr. Deming focused on the systemic causes. It might be a kind reaction to some of this unkind behavior to step away from blaming them or assuming negative intent, “They're acting unkindly. They must be a bad person.” That might not be the case at all because they're part of a system.

Many people have said to me about the book, “The people who are unkind and who need this the most are not going to read this book. How is it going to help?” Here's what we know from systems. If we change the inputs to the system, we're going to change the outputs to the system. You're a leader at some point in the day. When you wear your leader hat and you practice acting, speaking and thinking kindly and that takes practice, you are going to put different inputs into the system. Over time, all of our different inputs into the system change the system. The outputs are going to be different. Instead of fear, we're going to get trust, connection, unity and all those different things. The other people in the system are going to be changed by the system too.

There's that powerful indirect path. That hypothesis makes sense. I wouldn't expect this to be a useful approach. To give this book to somebody and say, “Here, become kinder,” A) They might not read it or, B) They might not read it from a place of wanting to absorb it. They might want to read it so they can be dismissive.

I don't think if you asked anybody that they're going to say, “I'm not kind.” People think they're kind. We on the receiving end might not feel or think that what they're doing is kind. I don't think most people are going to define themselves as an unkind person.

I'm sure there are all kinds of neuroscience or psychology of the defense mechanisms that build up for people who want to feel good about themselves.

The best thing to do is to practice kindness and kind leadership because then, not only is the kind act, word and thought you have going to make something better for the person that you are kind to but it's going to change the system. If you happen to be in a leadership role at work, the way you act is going to change the culture of the organization that you work in. The people who work for you are going to take that, what they learn out into other places, home and community so that's going to change the culture there as well.

For somebody interested in the topic and maybe isn't as comfortable with the word kind or kindness, in the book, do you connect kindness to a phrase that has been used a lot in the Lean community? How would you connect kindness and respect for people?

Although this is not a traditional Lean book, people who are Lean practitioners are going to find a lot of connections. Our act kindly behavior is to check in with people, not on them. To go to see all of these things, we're going to find them. One thing I find from the Lean world is that I don't think respect for people is as defined a pillar as the continuous improvement pillar.

We have tons of tools. People can tell you 5S. I was with the Saskatchewan Lean Practitioners Association and I did a presentation. I asked them, “Please write down your definition of respect for people for me.” They were all different, which is what I was pretty sure about. The principles in this book helped to solidify and define what that respect for people is.

We have a very common thing we use in Lean. Be hard on the process, be soft on the people. We tend to remember the be hard on the process. When something happens, we say, “Don't blame the people. Let's go look at the process.” We could say being soft on the people means being kind to the people. We shouldn't forget that other part. If somebody makes a mistake, they feel bad. They're human beings. We should help them to deal with that as well so they can deal with their feelings. Nobody wants to go to work and make a terrible mistake for a customer. It doesn't work that way.

LBI Karyn Ross | Kind Leadership
Kind Leadership: Be hard on the process and soft on the people.


There's a distinction between not blaming and yelling at somebody. Beyond that is to realize when somebody might need a pat on the back or a pep talk. They feel bad already. We should acknowledge that.

I don't know if I've told you this story before but when I started working at the payroll company, which is where I eventually learned Lean, in my very first week, I made a huge mistake. I was trying to learn how to use the payroll system and I thought I was in the test system. I was not in the test system. I was in the actual system. By mistake, I paid someone $150,000.

The checks and balances of the payroll company were very good and they caught the error before the money was withdrawn. I could have been treated unbelievably unkindly. It was my first week. I was doing the best that I could. When somebody told me I made the error, how did I feel? Fear was the first thing. “It's my first week. They're going to fire me. I'm not going to have a job. How could anybody recover from this?”

That's not what happened. My supervisor and the trainer called me aside. They explained what happened. They sat with me to figure out how the mistake could happen so that it wouldn't happen again. They acknowledged that I was afraid and that I felt bad. Nobody wants to go to work in the first week and make this horrible mistake. We have to take care of people too. We have to be kind to people.

I've heard that's a great story. I've heard stories like that from Toyota people. Isao Yoshino told a story about a mistake he made in an episode of My Favorite Mistake. David Meier, from his time at Toyota, also talked about that in an episode of My Favorite Mistake. Those mistakes were seen as learning opportunities.

Maybe back to something you said, don't assume negative intent. Don't assume the person was trying to cause a problem or that Karyn was trying to embezzle money into a friend. Assume positive intent and think about the systems. What made that error possible? What can we do to learn and prevent that error from occurring again? That seems like a very Toyota mindset.

It also goes back to something you talk a lot about in the My Favorite Mistake. Not a single person is perfect. We are human beings. We are imperfect. We can do our best job in our good Lean language. What are we going to find out? We're still going to make mistakes. This is where empathy and compassion come in. I have to acknowledge that I am not a perfect person.

When I see someone else's mistake, I need to acknowledge the way I feel when I make a mistake, which is horrible and embarrassed and I paid someone $150,000 for my job, that's the way the other person feels. It's okay for them and us to be imperfect. The wonderful thing about kind leadership, which I always say, is it's a practice that takes practice. I can guarantee you that in two minutes, there's going to be another time for you to practice being kind to someone because, as human beings, we make errors all of the time. You would not have a whole episode on this if not for that.

The wonderful thing about kind leadership is that it's a practice that takes practice. Share on X

This wasn't the most recent mistake I made but a mistake I made was pointed out to me and it was done in a kind way. I was leading a project to overhaul the website for the firm value capture. There was a page where in the top sub-header, it makes reference to healthcare. It was pointed out kindly. Nobody piled on or called me an idiot or, “What's wrong with you? Why weren't you more careful? Why didn't you proofread?” Somehow, I had typed the word healthcare. Instead of two lowercase Hs, there were both lowercase Bs.

I type the word healthcare a lot. I'm a good typist. I'm a touch typist. I can type accurately and quickly. I don't remember ever noticing that I typed bealthcare instead of healthcare. I'm looking like, “Those keys are right next to each other on the keyboard. A lowercase B looks a lot like a lowercase H, especially the way the page was formatted. I made the mistake and I didn't catch it.” It was easily fixed. I appreciate the kindness. I don't think that's easy on me. I don't feel like that's creating a permissive culture where Mark Graban doesn't have to care about the quality of his work. I do care about the quality of my work.

Back to this definition between being kind and being nice. Being kind doesn't mean that I can't help you become better at the work that you're doing. It would be very unkind of me not to help you and point out something like that. Maybe I'd like to know how it happened. I'm sure you'd like to know how it happened because goodness knows what you don't want to do is end up in a meeting where someone is talking about, “There's that guy who wrote bealthcare.”

It's important for people to understand that we're all imperfect. We're all going to make mistakes. It's better not to have to live in fear of what's going to happen when you do make the mistake. Wouldn't you rather know that your leader is going to automatically say, “Mark is a human being. Karyn is a human being. They're going to make a mistake. When they do make a mistake, let's see how we can help them learn and grow from it.” That's the model you take home to your family and the community. We change the system so that we don't have people screaming at each other and confronting each other about all kinds of choices.

The General Motors work environment right out of college was a yelling, screaming and getting upset culture. Sometimes that was rationalized. I remember talking to some leaders. They're like, “If you don't get upset, people don't think you're serious.” That was not a fun work environment to be a part of. It was damaging to the results of the organization, more importantly.

People will read in the book that although the book is not specifically focused on kind leadership is going to give you better results, there is a section to show you how kind leadership gives you better results. Mark, do you work at GM anymore?

No, I've been gone for many years.

If you worked in a super kind environment, you might still be there. That's the other thing. We talk about the Great Resignation and all of those things. There are lots of different theories about why that's happening. One of the theories that I have is that people understand that time is a precious gift. What we do with our time, we're not going to get it back. This is the time of our life. When I go to work somewhere, I am giving that organization the gift of the time of my life. I will never ever get it back. People are unwilling to work in cultures and environments in which they are treated unkindly.

LBI Karyn Ross | Kind Leadership
Kind Leadership: People are unwilling to work in cultures and environments in which they are treated unkindly.


It connects back to this idea of kindness, respect or how we're going to frame it or both leads to better results. That's also the conclusion drawn from the research around a related concept, psychological safety. Karyn and Jessica House co-presented a great webinar on psychological safety as part of the KaiNexus series. There's a double benefit, as with many things. We're not being kind because maybe we'd say it's the right thing to do. It's good for the organization.

As adults, where do we spend the majority of our time? At work. In the book, I define culture as what's allowed and accepted here to happen here. If you have a culture of fear, leadership has allowed and accepted yelling, screaming and beating people with a stick. If it's allowed and accepted here, we take it out into the world where it's allowed and accepted.

What's allowed and accepted is when someone makes a mistake as a leader for you to go and say, “Here's what occurred. Can we sit down and you can tell me about it? Let's figure this out.” That's a culture of kindness and that's how you learn to treat other people at work. When you go home, that's how you treat your partner or spouse. That's how you treat your kids. When they grow up, that's the leader that they become. That's how they solve a problem at school.

I wanted to come back and hear a little bit more about something you said about neuroscience around assuming negative intent and how that might be baked into us. One thing that makes me think related to that first is from what I've read. It does seem like it is very much in our human nature to try to blame others and deflect blame from ourselves. That seems like a reasonable survival strategy that then has all kinds of side effects. Is there a similar neuroscience around assuming negative intent? Was that helpful maybe in the earlier days of humankind?

It's called negativity bias. It's unconscious and we assume the negative. This happens all the time. When my kids were little, we wanted to go to Disney World. I said, “Children, your father and I have decided that we are going to take you to Disney World.” They looked at us and said, “We don't want to go.” The thing is, in general, when we present a novel idea to someone, the absolute first thing they are going to do is assume negative intent and say, “No, I don't like that.”

LBI Karyn Ross | Kind Leadership
Kind Leadership: Negativity bias is unconscious, and it's when we assume the negative.


As leaders, people and Lean practitioners, we need to understand this negativity bias and realize that they're not resistant. They're human beings. If you let people go for a while, they'll think that part of the brain will relax and then they can think. In general, we will assume negative intent first. The Kind Leader is a practical book. Here's the point at which I'm going to ask people to do a little bit of practice. What I'd like everyone to do who reads this, whatever point it is in your day and wherever you are, is to pay attention for the rest of the day when someone presents an idea to you.

I want you to pay attention to your thinking and notice what was the first thought that came into your mind. The answers are it's negative. The good thing is, as human beings, we can override that because we can look at that negative thought, write it down and say, “What can I replace that with?” With a positive thought. I'd like you to do that. Especially if you are in a leadership role at work, probably in almost every interaction you're going to have with someone, that negative is going to come first.

We're going to have one million times a day to practice assuming positive intent. We also remember negative things much more clearly and much longer than we remember positive experiences. Toyota, when they came to North America, found this too. Maybe in Japan. A problem is a buried treasure. We would talk about the problems first. They found in North America that you need to give workers 3 to 5 positives before you tell them a negative. We remember the negative.

There's something to be said about being kind to yourself. One thing I've gotten better at managing is I shouldn't blame individuals for systemic problems, whether that's in a workplace or me being a customer. I've gotten better at creating that pause between having the thought that blames me and then saying something. I've learned to keep that in. I still sometimes feel bad like, “Why was I even thinking that?” I try to be kind. I'm like, “It is in our nature but at least I moderated it.”

I need to do better around this negativity bias of stating the problem I see with the idea first instead of holding that back and saying something good about the idea. That's not blowing smoke but there is, I'm sure something good about the idea and not just jumping right to the potential flaw in the idea or having a negativity bias about expecting the worst. My one takeaway here is that I can be kind toward myself and say, “That is part of our nature. Don't beat yourself up over that.”

You'll find specific exercises. Good thing you have your book. You could do the exercises.

I'm going to go through it more.

Be kind to yourself because you are a human being and you have the same biology. It is becoming conscious of, “I'm having this negative assumption,” and going into a situation and preparing yourself, especially in a situation where you're going to have an emotional trigger. “What are the things that I can do to prepare myself? The first thought I'm going to have is probably going to be negative. What do I do? I can stop.” A good thing for a leader to model is to sit down in a difficult situation or conversation and say, “I know that we have this thing called negativity bias and I'm going to have what I call a negative first impression. When I do, I'm going to take a pause, write it down and recenter myself.”

You've modeled a good way for that person to act when they have their leader hat on. Not only are you making what you're doing visible but you are saying it's okay to be human and be imperfect. Nobody is perfect. Be kind to yourself. Perhaps you've noticed that in every LinkedIn post, I put in everything. You'll find a spelling error and a grammar error. I leave those on purpose. I do reread my post and I leave them because I want you to understand that there's no need to be perfect. Do you know Amy Mervak?

I've met Amy before. She's from Michigan.

Amy and I are doing a New School for Kind Leaders workshop called Perfectionism Isn't Kind. We're going to do a particular workshop on that. Jessica and I are doing a 5Cs of psychological safety as well but it's okay not to be perfect. Do you know why it's okay not to be perfect? It's because there are 7.5 billion people in the world. The reason we're all here in the world, imperfect as we are, is to help each other. If we were perfect, we'd only need one.

The reason we're all here in the world, imperfect as we are, is to help each other. Share on X

You and I have done some livestreaming before and you've been doing this weekly talk show, The Little Kind Words Talk Show. When you're streaming live, a mistake is there. I'm not going to go edit out the stumbles from me attempting to read from your bio but what have you learned first about the process of livestreaming? If you make mistakes, have you managed to be kind to yourself in that context?

First of all, I love livestreaming because it gives us the opportunity to practice accepting what is. That's another good way to practice being kind to ourselves and others. You can go back and listen to my little end-of-the-week reflection. My phone rang at the end of it. It was some junk call. That's okay. People's phone rings. I love that not edited. It's not perfection. They've found a study and probably everybody's read it, about the negative impact of Instagram on young women.

When we Photoshop everything and only curate the best moments, what kind of example is that? The truth is I don't have the perfect lighting. I don't have any fancy lading over here. I don't dye my hair or wear makeup. My phone sometimes rings and it's all right. That's what I want to help people understand. It's all right. We don't have to improve at every moment. Sometimes we could accept ourselves as the imperfect fabulous people we are.

One other question before we start wrapping up. As we try to be lifelong learners and I know that you're practicing and challenging yourself, what have you learned about kindness since the book was published?

I have had the most amazing experience since the book was published. You cannot imagine the number of people who have reached out to me and said, “Karyn, what can I do to help you? How can I help you bring this message to other people?” I don't have words to describe as you can see how I feel. What I think is people are tired of unkindness. They're tired of feeling like there's nothing that they can do. They're tired of a system in which every day on social media, we've streamed all kinds of unkindness.

Artificial intelligence, as you and I said in our livestream, presents you with this. People are tired of it. They want to do something and they're going to do something because every single tiny act of kindness changes the system. It's not too small. Thank you to everybody who has reached out to me to say, “How can I help?” I am blown away by your kindness, including you, Mark, for having me on your show.

I do my best to be kind and I sometimes fail at that but I keep working at it.

Me too. We pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, do some introspection and take our next opportunity to practice, which will come along in two minutes.

Final question here, Karyn. Before we started recording, you started telling me about something I want the readers to know. You had a story about a pop-up kindness stand. What is that? Who did that?

For the Love and Kindness Project Foundation, you can go to our website and order these buttons. I'll ship you as many as you want, shipping included, anywhere in the world. I had this idea that people could have pop-up kindness stands and they stand here with the buttons. I thought, “Retired people could do this.” I asked these friends of mine if they could have a pop-up kindness stand. I normally ship the buttons closed because I don't want someone to injure themselves with the sharp part of the button.

They got the buttons and sent me a note back. They were in their 80s and they said, “Karyn, we can't open the buttons. The clasp is too tight. Could you send me open buttons?” I did a little while later. This was right at the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, both of them got COVID. Luckily, they both recovered. There is a Wall Street Journal article, I believe, written about them a test of what to do with the best-case scenario for elderly people.

Thank you, Karyn. I'll be curious to read that. The thing that came out from that episode is it was the intentional acts, going out of their way to find situations where they could be kind to others. It was always great to hear about that. We'll share that with everybody. The book is The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness. We all know if we can do those things, eliminate fear, create trust and lead with kindness, we will be better off, our employees will be better off, and their families and their communities will be better off. Our customers and our shareholders will be better off.

There is zero downside.

Karyn, thank you so much again for being a guest on the show. Thanks for sharing and giving us a lot to think about here.

As always, thank you for your kindness and for helping us practice kindness, Mark.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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