kindness-at-work256 comments on a 500 word blog about kindness which was posted on Harvard Business Review – these are a lot of comments about a topic that doesn’t seem like a business leadership topic. In the blog, Bill Taylor, author of Mavericks at Work, relates the following story about Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

Even as a 10-year-old boy, it turns out, Bezos had a passion for crunching numbers. During a summer road trip with his grandparents, Jeff got fed up with his grandmother’s smoking in the car and decided to do something about it. From the backseat, he calculated how many cigarettes per day his grandmother smoked, how many puffs she took per cigarette, the health risk of each puff, and announced to her with great fanfare, “You’ve taken nine years off your life!”

Bezos’s calculations may have been accurate — but the reaction was not what he expected. His grandmother burst into tears. His grandfather pulled the car off to the side of the road and asked young Jeff to step out. And then his grandfather taught a lesson that this now-billionaire decided to share with the Princeton University Class of 2010 at graduation: “My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, ‘Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.'”

Bezos was clever, correct, fast and timely but chopped away at incredibly important asset in his life, his grandmother.  Both Taylor and Bezos use the story as a metaphor for companies today.  These companies are clever, correct and fast and in doing so harm their incredibly important assets – employees and customers.

Bezos could have used this chance with his grandmother to give the same message about smoking, quit, but do it in a way that celebrates what she is doing right, not wrong.  Bezos, using his number-crunching knack, could have recognized that she was smoking less cigarettes than before highlighting her effort to roll back her health problems instead of sustaining them.  The method he used hurt.  Using a method which focuses on her decreased number of cigarettes would help.  Most importantly, it would have been kinder.

Managers highlighting and celebrating what is going right instead of criticizing sets up a kinder workplace that celebrates creative endeavor.  Employees will be more likely to take innovative risks if positive results are celebrated and negative results aren’t publicly and humiliatingly harangued. Also, kind behavior emanating from the top gives everyone permission to look for opportunities to have genuine human impact inside and outside the company.

In the post “A Drink of Compassion Numbs the Stress,” I wrote about when management prioritize compassion, it integrates the workplace culture and customer base creating a company with less employee turnover, higher employee morale and increased customer loyalty. The same holds true for kindness.  Kindness creates a mecca of humanity in a world of cut-and-dry technological relationships.