Provision #742: Kindness Matters

Laser Provision

Do you like stories? Then this is the Provision for you. It contains four stories, each of which illustrates an important principle when it comes to leadership: kindness matters. When leaders engage in either intentional or random acts of kindness, people notice. Such acts build trust and grease the wheels of change. If leaders want to make a difference in our organizations and in the world, then it behooves us to do kind things to others. When it comes to leadership, that may well be the perfect expression of the Golden Rule. What are those stories? Read on to find out about starfish, a Porsche, marathon runners, and W. Edwards Deming. Yes, even Deming was kind! Enjoy.

LifeTrek Provision

I think I’m about done with my exploration of the Deming Management Principles in this series of Provisions on Evocative Leadership. That’s not because we have done the Principles justice, but it is soon time to bring this Provisions’ series to a close. It’s been fun using the English alphabet to identify 78 things that matter, 26 x 3, when it comes to leadership. Still, I’m guessing you are about done with this theme. And I’m ready to turn the Provisions into a new book called The ABCs of Leadership. They will be reorganized (in alphabetical order) and rewritten (to make them less time-specific) before being published (I hope) before the end of next year. You’ll be hearing more about that, I’m sure, as time goes on.

One thing to which I would call your attention is a reworking of last week’s Provision on Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge. It was bothering me all the week that I did not properly describe the third dynamic of that Theory. In last week’s Provision, I referred to that dynamic as the scientific method, but that is a symptom rather than a cause. In this dynamic, Deming was really addressing adult learning theory. He was not concerned as to how people could know anything at all. He was concerned as to how people could add to their knowledge over time. When I was in college, I studied this concern in terms of evolutionary epistemology. Deming had a stance here that was compatible with what I learned almost 40 years ago.

I took the time, then, to rewrite that section of last week’s Provision. If you have an interest in the matter, I encourage you to click through to the Provision, titled Knowledge Matters, and to read the section on Learning Theory. I hope you will find the revision as illuminating to read as I found it to write.

With all of Deming’s sophistication as a statistician and management consultant, and with all of his fame for the transformation of the Japanese manufacturing and business communities after World War II, I found it interesting to read the following description of Deming’s work from the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE):

“Shortly after World War II, the Japanese government encouraged the formation of several industrial organizations to help Japan recover from the war. The most notable of these organizations has been the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). This union brought together leaders and experts from all of Japan’s major industries so that they could share best practices. This was done in the hope of revitalizing Japan’s economy.

Its main directive was to revitalize Japan’s economy and eliminating waste by improving quality. It wasn’t until 1949 that JUSE began to host statistical quality control seminars. In 1950 JUSE invited Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a U.S. government statistical advisor to lecture to them on use of statistical quality control.

That invitation led to an eight day lecture that was well received by the eager Japanese engineers and scientists. Dr. Deming repeated his lectures many times with great reception. These initiated what is now commonly referred to as the Japanese quality revolution, of which JUSE is the quintessential poster child. The notes to Dr. Deming’s lecture, Elementary Principles of the Statistical Control of Quality, were subsequently translated and published in Japan.

Although JUSE offered Dr. Deming the royalties for his lectures, he refused. JUSE, inspired by Dr. Deming’s kindness, began the Deming Prize in 1951 from those same royalties. The prize, which is a bronze medal bearing a likeness of Dr. Deming is awarded to those who have contributed to the field of quality control. The Deming Prize was originally awarded in two categories. It is awarded to individuals who make a significant contribution to the theory and application of quality control and also to firms that obtain outstanding results in the application of quality control.

Although JUSE offers a plethora of seminars, training courses, and symposiums on quality related topics, JUSE is most well known for its role in awarding and administering the Deming Prize. Today, the Deming Prize is open to all persons and companies both Japanese and foreign in one of three categories. These categories are:

  • The Deming Prize for Individuals
  • The Deming Application Prize
  • The Quality Control Award for Operations Business Units

While these awards differ in criteria, they are all awarded to companies and individuals for their outstanding efforts to apply or disseminate Total Quality Management. JUSE also offers and co-sponsors other awards like the Japan Quality Medal, for Deming Prize winner overachievers, and Nikkei QC Literature award for excellent writings in the Total Quality Management field. All of these awards are administered by the JUSE Deming Award committee. Through these awards JUSE has sought to promote interest in the use and learning of Total Quality Management techniques throughout the world.”

Just imagine what might have happened if Deming had not been so kind as to donate his royalties to JUSE. He was certainly entitled to keep the money. The money came, after all, for the time and effort he took to get to Japan on multiple occasions to present what today would be described as his intellectual property. But Deming was more concerned to make a contribution than to make a killing. And that act of kindness, as much as the ideas themselves, distinguished Deming in the eyes of his Japanese hosts.

That’s the way kindness works when it comes to leadership. It sets leaders apart and makes people more interested in our ideas. People love it when leaders walk the talk, putting the interests of others in front of their own.

I saw that last week in Lawrence, Kansas. My wife and I were presenting our work on evocative coaching in schools to the Sixth Annual Instructional Coaching Conference. We were there at the invitation of Jim Knight, a good friend who heads up the Kansas Coaching Project. We presented our talk twice, and participated in two panel discussions, that were as informative to us as they were to the audience. We had a great time and, if you are interested, you can view our presentation online by downloading our PowerPoint slides from the Center for School Transformation website.

For all the energy of the interactions, the biggest squeal came at the end of our second presentation when a young woman from the audience came forward with a few of her friends. “You look so familiar,” she said, “and your voice sounds even more familiar. I’ve been trying to figure out how I know you. Is there any chance that you were the 4:45 pace team leader last year at the Baltimore marathon?” Now Lawrence, Kansas is a long way from Baltimore, and we were there from all parts of the USA for a totally different purpose. So the chances were unlikely, but this young woman nailed the association. And that’s when the squeal went up. Suddenly we were hugging, swapping stories, and taking pictures.

Talk about a serendipity! And it could not have come at a better time, since yesterday was the 10th running of the Baltimore marathon and I was once again at my post. “I would never have finished that marathon,” this gal said, “in the time that I did, as strong as I did, were it not for you.” We gave each other another hug. It meant so much to me to know how this simple act of kindness affected another person. And, I think, it may have gotten her a little more interested in our ideas as well.

Why do I describe running the Baltimore marathon as an act of kindness? Because we are doing it for others rather than for ourselves. From as fast as 3 hours to as slow as 5 hours and 15 minutes, more than 50 pacers intentionally slow ourselves down in order to get others across the finish line in their desired times. Before the race yesterday, someone asked me: “Why do you do this? Why do you come up here every year to lead the 4:45 pace team? What’s in it for you? Everyone else is trying to run as fast as they can. You are going slow just to help others? Why?”

I told him the story from Lawrence, Kansas. That’s why. Because it makes a difference. Because it touches people’s lives and creates a deep connection. Because people year after year tell me how much they appreciate both our competence and our kindness. It really doesn’t get any better than that. And kindness is up to us. It’s a choice. We decide how we want to be and show up in the world. I choose to be kind.

You have perhaps heard the story about the starfish. There are many versions of this story on the internet. I like the one inspired by Loren Eiseley, a scientist and a poet, as told by Joel Barker on the Star Thrower website:

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man, much like Eiseley himself, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young boy and the boy wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The boy paused, looked up and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” “I guess I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” “The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.” “But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The boy listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one!”

The boy’s response surprised the man. In fact, it upset the man. He didn’t know how to reply. So instead, he turned away and walked back to the cottage to begin his writings.

All day long, as he wrote, the image of the young boy haunted him. He tried to ignore it, but the vision persisted. Finally, late in the afternoon he realized that he the scientist, he the poet, had missed out on the essential nature of the boy’s actions. Because he realized that what the boy was doing was choosing not to be an observer in the universe and, instead, to make a difference. The man was embarrassed.

That night he went to bed troubled. When the morning came he awoke knowing that he had to do something. So he got up, put on his clothes, went to the beach and found the young boy. And with him he spent the rest of the morning throwing starfish into the ocean. You see, what that boy’s actions represent is something that is special in each and everyone of us. We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. And if we can, like that young boy, become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our vision the power to shape the future.”

That’s another way to look at the power of kindness. It touches the heart and brings out the best in people. When leaders are kind to people, whether in expected or unexpected ways, it established trust and rapport, builds community, and creates a buffer against the inevitable bruises that come with leadership. None of us is great all the time. Kindness encourages people to overlook our flubs and faults, without our even asking.

Motivational speaker and former National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones, tells a wonderful story on his video, For The Love of It, about the infectious and salubrious power or kindness. Since you can watch the entire film online, free of charge, I encourage you to do so. Here is what Dewitt had to say about his experience with Random Acts of Kindness and a Porsche:

“Now I know that sometimes no matter how much we fill up our cup, no matter how much we hang out with folks who seem to love what they do, that light, that inspiration • our light, our inspiration • just doesn’t seem to be there. From our perspective, it’s just storm clouds and darkness.

Well at some point, if the light’s not there, you just have to add it. Just like using a strobe. You just have to make your own light. Just act as if you were in love with what you do.

Several years ago, there was a woman in San Francisco who wrote an article called Random Acts of Kindness. Maybe you•ve read it. Maybe you practice it. I loved the article. I believed in the concept. Random acts of kindness. Well, since she lived in San Francisco, one of her suggestions for such a random act was to pay the bridge toll of the guy behind you when you crossed the bridge.

And at that point, you know, I lived just across the Golden Gate and every time I’d come to the city, I’d say, •Ok, today’s the day!• And then I’d drive a little further and I’d go, •Uh uh. Today’s not the day.• I don’t know why, I just couldn’t do it.

So one day, I just grabbed hold of myself and I said, ‘today is the day. I don’t care if you don’t think you•re ready. Just act as if you are.• I mean, I’ve discovered that sometimes, you just have to act as if. Even if you•re scared. Even if you haven’t worked the kinks out yet. You just begin to make your own light by acting as if.

So, I got out six bucks. Three for me, and three for the guy behind me. And I drove into the toll booth and I looked in my rear-view mirror and hidden behind me slides a gleaming, black Porsche. Like he needs it, right? I’m not a Porsche kind of a guy; I drive a gray, dusty Subaru. But I rolled down the window and I hand the money to the girl who’s taking the tolls and I said, ‘this is for me and the guy behind me.•

And she looks down at my Subaru and then very slowly she looks over at the Porsche. And she looks back at me and she says, •You don’t know him, do you?• And I said, •No I don’t.• And she just broke into this huge smile. A wonderful smile.

And I drove out of the toll booth and I looked in the rearview mirror, here was the guy in the Porsche, trying to hand her the money. And she was talking to him; I don’t know what she was saying but finally he pulled his hand back in and he accelerated from zero to sixty in about 2.4 seconds. As he passed me, he let go of the wheel, looked over at me, and went •Yes!•

I don’t know if I made his day. I think I did. I think I made her day. But I know I made my day. I mean, I will never forget that feeling, which all began by acting as if. And every once in a while, I take out six bucks as I cross the Golden Gate Bridge.”

May the spirit of kindness be in us all!

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you did a Random Act of Kindness? What about an Expected Act of Kindness? How would you describe your intention when it comes to kindness? When it comes to leadership, would people describe you as kindhearted or tough-as-nails? How is your way of being working for you? What might inspire you to be more kind? Who do you know who has been kind to you and how have you reciprocated in life and work?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

Your recent Provisions on W. Edwards Deming, Kaizen Matters and Knowledge Matters, have been fascinating.  I had heard the name, and even once knew something about the man, but I had forgotten about Deming entirely. With the growing “Take Back” protests around the world, targeted on the wealth disparities in this country and around the world, it would appear that Deming’s Principles should be retrieved from the dustbin of history. Thanks. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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