Kindness, Character & Community Matter

business cultureDavid Brooks wrote an interesting piece this week about Communities of Character and what some schools are doing to teach this.

What struck me most about the article and the school described, was the focus on kindness and caring as opposed to our traditional focus on achievement. Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, once wrote, “It is the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible denial, and above all, compassion.”

The amazing result of this focus is an extremely high graduation rate and 100% of students going on to college. Brooks’ point was that character does not develop all by itself, it takes a community to provide the checks and balances, the safety net to make sure the person sets and keeps the right boundaries.

If we look at each business as a community, the joint character created is called culture, however, the “community,” or business, could certainly help all those who belong build character. If we simply replace the word “education” in Kurt Hahn’s quote with “business,” my guess is successful results would be the outcome, and consequently, happier employees.

Let’s look at these qualities and consider what they mean for business:

Enterprising Curiosity: Businesses celebrate this, inventions are thought up, new processes are created and all things move forward when we question in service of the greater good. Curiosity is not a bad thing, lack of curiosity leads to moribund business and “old ways of doing things” that usually no longer serve the original purpose.

Undefeatable Spirit: As every entrepreneur knows, you will have many failures before success shows up. Belief in the greater good, that goal, that willingness to fail, to move forward is a wonderful quality in all employees. It’s that spirit that keeps everyone going, in spite of unfavorable odds and setbacks.

Tenacity in Pursuit: Dogged pursuit of that which we know will eventually work out. Getting back up after a failure, but more importantly being supported by that community of co-workers who have your back. “We’re in this together spirit” has created many a new successful business idea.

Readiness for Sensible Denial:  I’m not quite sure what Hahn meant by this one, but to me it means that it’s okay to disagree, to discuss, defend and suspend ideas. It’s okay to have discussions as long as we include everyone and are open to different points of view. It’s keeping the full 360-degree view vs the 90-degree angle.

Compassion: Last, but certainly not least! Businesses would be well served to incorporate this into their cultures. More compassion to and from employees leads to a more productive and harmonious workplace, more compassion to customers also leads to loyalty.

Think about your business as a community and what you can do to strengthen the character of those who are a part of it. I believe the result will be stronger businesses, happier employees and better communities for all of us.