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The business of dealing in kindness

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

By Jackie Bland

Last year, after 30 years as a Director/Chief Exec, and five years as a therapist, I hit my 60th birthday, still feeling as if I was waiting to find out what I’d be when I grew up. I mean, everything had been great, I‘m hugely honoured to have worked in support of the opportunities I was given, with amazing people, amazing places, amazing issues in an amazing world.

But I still had a niggle that while I was busy doing all those things, I was really meant to be doing something else, or more accurately, I was building up to the real thing.

I spent quite a lot of time turning over stones in pursuit of the answer to this thing that was missing.

I turned a lot of stones – some were pretty heavy and there wasn’t much underneath....

I think it was probably working more latterly as a therapist, and repeatedly sitting through sessions encouraging people to get in touch with what they really wanted, who they really were, that I realised I might as well be one of those clients. Brilliant as work life had been, it had been in pursuit of what I thought I should do, what other people would approve of, staying safe, conforming perhaps to a predetermined idea of success and respectability.

The thing with being 60 is you are a long way through your working life.

For some, this can be a bit depressing, for others it’s a welcome wind-down, for me it’s been a complete liberation. Because now it doesn’t matter so much what I do, but whatever it is, I have a lifetime’s experience to bring to it! And because of the careers I have chosen, especially health, well-being and therapy, I have managed to arrive at this point with more energy and better health than I had in most of those years as a CEO.

So...I sat down and thought, with freedom, about what I would really do for the next 10-20 years (yes, I will retire maybe at 80...) if it didn’t matter. After a lifetime of feeling responsible and that everything mattered, exercising your ‘doesn’t matter’ muscle takes some practice.

Gradually something began to bubble up. It was a theme, a shadow that had been there for a long time. It centred around kindness...a frustration that despite how obvious it was that kinder approaches worked in just about every area of life, so much of the time we miss opportunities to be kind, especially in business life.

I began to read about kindness in leadership and in the workplace. I found that despite the idea that Edwardian conditions and leaders were harsh (and many were) the language of kindness in leadership, in management was already emerging. For example, Sheldon in 1923 advocated ‘sympathetic management’ and Rexford Hersey in 1923 (in a study of the Pennsylvania Railroad system) recorded the importance of ‘caring, affection, compassion and tenderness’. But it seems later in the 20th Century, organisational theorists moved away from studying kindness and emotional experience to focusing almost exclusively on a narrow and mostly cognitive approach to what succeeds in the workplace.

Then there are fascinating relationships between fear, negativity and kindness. Neuroscience shows us that the more our fear response is triggered, the less we feel able to operate with kindness, and yet kindness soothes, reassures and inspires. It keeps people around you in the frame of mind that brings out the best in themselves and others. And of course being kind yourself releases all the feel good chemicals produced by our bodies to keep us mentally and physically healthy.

I had worked for a while with groups developing the concept of ‘conscious’ leadership, with sometimes elaborate strategies for helping people develop themselves and bring out their finer qualities, emotional intelligence etc. But that niggle again – at the most basic level, they often weren’t kind, either to themselves, other people or the planet, even though you could not argue with many of their highly developed concepts.

Too often when the chips are down, ego, status, ease, money or sheer unawareness squeeze out simple kindnesses – the smile, the touch, the little snippet of praise, the enquiry about comfort, the touch of sympathy, the ‘servant leader’ approach, the extra bit of time freely given on a busy day.....the thank you.

I have also developed a sadness around education and school. The fear children have felt, including my own and those I have seen more recently as clients, about their school experience. The operation of threat and punishment, the encouragement of harsh competition and judgement at the expense of kinder approaches. Our system does this even though we should know by now that we damage the infant and youthful brains by programming in fear, anxiety and negativity when they are at their most malleable and vulnerable.

Of course it isn’t all an unkind world. Just as I am arguing for now for the seeming lack of kindness, it would be possible to identify quite astounding levels of kindness, incidents of kindness in the world around us. We (most of us) like kindness, understand it, want more of it, enjoy both giving and receiving kindness.

It’s a precious commodity, a liberating currency and an area for investment and opportunity.

Imagine if politicians suddenly switched to a currency of kindness rather than unkindness in their dealings with each other? Imagine if businesses made kindness their number one criteria for success and that everything else, even profit, came second to that.....

And that was it...

Envisioning a kindness business, is where my ‘it doesn’t matter’ moments brought me. I have decided to do exactly that with the next stage of my working life and set up a business whose product is kindness.

Pure Turtle is the result. We exist to create more kindness than there was before. We measure the business outcomes in kindness first, and our decision making framework is built around the kindness involved. Whether it’s leadership mentoring, personal therapy or planet-friendly products, it’s the kindness we deliver that matters.

Are you cynical about it? It doesn’t matter, we’ll be kind anyway!

‘That’ll never work’. It doesn’t matter (and anyway paradoxically, it will, because we only have to be kind for it to work..)

‘How will you make money’? By selling kinder products and services. By making money for other people who in turn recommend us. By having faith that acts of kindness breed further kind acts and attitudes, and that through this, we’ll thrive.

Once we (me and one of my sons one of my daughters) had decided to set up Pure Turtle, our research uncovered other people in the UK, and others further afield who were doing the same which is welcome reinforcement when, like the turtle, you are sticking your neck out.

It’s also great to think that there might be a ‘kindness movement’ bubbling under the current troubles of humanity and that businesses like ours that call it by name and put it first might do their little bit to accelerate its emergence.

When we can regard every working moment as a space to be kind in, whether that’s to ourselves, others, or the planet, we will, I believe, benefit beyond our wildest dreams.

Jackie Bland

Chief Executive, Pure Turtle

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