The Happy Engineer Podcast

113: Stop Being Nice and Start Leading Kind with Karyn Ross | Award-Winning Author and Leadership Expert

In this episode, we look at leadership through a new lens. Leadership expert and award-winning author Karyn Ross is on a mission to help us create a kinder and better world.

If power-hungry leaders who play the game of corporate politics have ever rubbed you the wrong way, or if you feel the pain of toxic leadership at work in any way, you will want to hear what Karyn has to say about kindness.

Karyn believes that kind leadership is the answer to our global leadership crisis.

Most engineering leaders also struggle with being kind to themselves. I’ll show you a simple exercise to neutralize that negative self-talk.

An artist, TEDx speaker, internationally recognized coach, Karyn is the owner of Karyn Ross Consulting and The New School for Kind Leaders. She is also the Founder and President of The Love and Kindness Project Foundation, a registered public charity and grass-roots movement, spreading kindness person to person around the world.

So press play and let’s chat… I may not always be nice, but I promise to be kind!

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The Happy Engineer Podcast



[00:00:00] Karyn discusses leadership crisis and its impact.

[00:03:06] Leaders’ negative words have a lasting impact.

[00:06:46] Check thoughts, reframe unkind self-talk, substitute.

[00:12:13] Kindness is action arising from empathy.

[00:18:44] Step outside your comfort zone, empathize.

[00:23:55] Kindness creates positive effects and outcomes.

[00:26:13] Kindness doesn’t always guarantee desired results.

[00:30:09] Strength is needed to mentor and help. Weakness is losing temper and firing. Kindness takes strength. Model behavior and create a kinder world.

[00:35:43] “Follow Karyn, get free kindness book.”

[00:37:15] The first step: decisive and immediate.





Previous Episode 112: Your Biggest Industry Opportunity Today is Manufacturing with John Real | Project Engineering Leader



Kindness and kind leadership challenge conventional beliefs about leadership. 

It’s interesting how Karyn’s articulation of kindness challenges the prevailing notions of humility, influence, and power that are commonly discussed and emphasized in leadership books and training.

Kindness: More than being Nice

Kindness goes beyond the perception of always being nice or being a pushover as a leader. It encompasses a deeper level of empathy, compassion, and consideration while maintaining firmness and assertiveness when necessary. By incorporating kindness into leadership practices, leaders can foster a positive work environment and build stronger relationships with their team members.

Kindness in Action: Charles’ Story

To illustrate the power of kindness in leadership, let’s examine Charles’ experience. After being unexpectedly laid off from a prominent tech company, Charles faced challenges in securing a new job. Despite his impressive resume and experience, he doubted his abilities and felt disconnected from the technical expertise required for other roles. The fear of failure and uncertainty began to take a toll on him.

During a conversation with Charles, an exercise similar to what Karyn discussed in our interview came to mind: neutralizing negative self-talk. Negative self-talk often emerges during moments of failure, setback, frustration, or when triggered by past experiences. By acknowledging and addressing this negative aspect, leaders can cultivate a more positive and empowering mindset.

Introducing the PART Process: Neutralizing Negative Self-Talk

To combat negative self-talk, we present the PART process—a four-step approach to neutralizing negativity and promoting personal growth. Let’s explore each step in detail:

  1. Plan Time: Allocate 10 minutes on your calendar for this exercise. Although it may not always be feasible to respond immediately, setting aside dedicated time is crucial.
  2. Ask Questions: Grab a journal and write down those negative thoughts, allowing yourself to be brutally honest. Challenge the truthfulness of these statements and consider if they hold any validity.
  3. Reframe Negative Thoughts: Take the negative statements you wrote down and find positive and constructive ways to reframe them. Shift your mindset from self-condemnation to self-empowerment by embracing growth opportunities and acknowledging constant learning.
  4. Take Action: Read through your newly reframed thoughts and beliefs, and identify inspired actions you can take. Whether it’s networking, skills enhancement, or seeking mentorship, commit to tangible steps aligned with your new positive beliefs.

By following the PART process and actively neutralizing negative self-talk, leaders can create a more positive and empowering mindset that facilitates personal and professional growth. Remember, taking action is crucial in turning these new beliefs into reality.

Join Our Community of Like-Minded Leaders

If you need guidance in implementing these strategies or desire accountability, we invite you to join our community of like-minded engineering leaders. Together, we can accelerate your career goals and break free from the chains of negative self-talk. Book a time to connect with us and embark on this transformative journey.

Step out of your comfort zone, crush comfort, create courage, and take action. Let’s make it happen!



Author of How to Coach for Creativity and Service Excellence: A Lean Coaching Workbook, and coauthor of the Shingo Award-winning,  The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations. 

An internationally acclaimed consultant, coach and lean practitioner, she has taught organizations of all sizes, in sectors as diverse as insurance, HR, transportation and retail how to use creativity combined with Toyota Way principles, practices and tools.

A practicing artist, with an MFA in Sculpture, she specialize in developing your team’s creativity and divergent thinking skills so that an organization can flourish, thrive and grow and fulfill it’s purpose.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Karen. I’m so glad you’re here. Welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast. 

[00:00:04] Karyn Ross: Well, Zach, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s an honor and. I am absolutely sure we are gonna have a fabulous discussion today. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:13] Zach White: I agree. And we had such a great chat before we hit record. We’re both wearing orange for those who are on the YouTube channel and seeing that if you’re listening, you can’t see us.

[00:00:21] But, Karen, I think it’s appropriate to say, it is very kind of you to be here and lead with generosity and your time and energy to share with us. And what I thought we’d begin actually is leaping off the platform of your recent. TEDx talk in Boston where your opening line leads us to this awareness that we’re in a leadership crisis.

[00:00:45] And that’s a bold phrase, you know, crisis is not a word to take lightly. We just come through a global pandemic as a crisis. You know, we don’t throw that word around lightly. So would you describe a little bit what draws that conclusion for you? Where are you at in terms of, here’s why I believe when I look around at the state of leadership and companies in the world, we’re in a crisis.

[00:01:09] What is that for you? Well, 

[00:01:11] Karyn Ross: first of all, I love that question, and second of all, I do believe we’re in a leadership crisis and part of the reason is. Just when I look around at the people in leadership roles, in, you know, workplaces, most adults spend most of their time at work in the community. And you know, we often don’t think of parents as leaders.

[00:01:34] Sometimes we say a parent is a child’s first teacher, but actually a parent is a child’s first leader too. Yes. And we see actually what’s happening in the world, the divisiveness, the chaos. So many people are disengaged at work or they feel burned out, or they’re having that quiet, quitting, right?

[00:01:53] and I see how people are acting together treating each other in very unkind ways, and all you need to do is look on social media, look on the news. You can hear what. People are saying, and not just what leaders are saying, and it really makes me understand there’s a leadership crisis because people act, speak and think in ways that they’ve learned from their leaders.

[00:02:17] So if we are acting like this, mm-hmm. We’re having a leadership crisis. 

[00:02:23] Zach White: Mm-hmm. Karen, I’m curious from your research in writing the book, which we’ll talk about the kind leader, a practical guide to eliminating fear, creating trust, and leading with kindness. I love that subtitle, but as you were pulling the data together for this, do you see that this sort of social media and news, crazy culture that we’re in creates.

[00:02:50] An amplification of our perception of that crisis versus the reality or would you say it’s the opposite? In fact, it’s even worse than we’re seeing because a lot of it’s not being reported. What’s your conclusion when you look across the broad spectrum 

[00:03:07] Karyn Ross: and you know, that’s really interesting cuz I don’t think it’s an either or.

[00:03:10] I think it’s a cycle and really one feeds the other. I always say leaders words. Travel fast, they travel far and they carry a lot of weight. So actually you can think about yourself in, you know, just being at work. If your manager says something to you that you feel is unkind, maybe they make a denigrating statement about your work or about something you’re doing personally, chances are that’s gonna stick in your mind.

[00:03:45] Carrie a, a stronger feeling for you, A stronger negative feeling mm-hmm. Than something maybe a friend of yours said or something, because that person has some kind of power. As human beings, we all come wired with negativity bias, so we are going to focus more on negative things and things that leaders say.

[00:04:12] Negatively are gonna stick with us. Now, I want you to think about every single one of us has self-talk going on, if you pay attention to the voices in your head, and they’re telling you all of the negative things, oh, you shouldn’t do this, or you should have, would’ve coulda done this, and think back to it, chances are those negative.

[00:04:35] Things you are saying to yourself came from a leader that said it to you. So when we have what I call our leader hat on, we need to be very careful about what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. So that brings us back full circle to social media and tv. The more we amplify negative things that leaders say, the bigger effect we’re gonna cause.

[00:05:02] For everybody else, right? Yeah. And whether it’s perceived or not, it doesn’t really matter because that becomes our reality. 

[00:05:10] Zach White: Karen, I remember in my engineering career days when a person who I respected, or a boss or a project manager, even a peer, someone who I was your same level as if they would make that.

[00:05:23] unkind or really critical aggressive comment, or E, even if it was legitimate, I made a mistake. You know, in the sense that what they were commenting about was truly not my best work or something went wrong on the project. That negative self-talk that you’re describing, you know, before I. Went through all the coaching and training and EQ work I’ve done now.

[00:05:46] Oh man. I would go home and just replay that story and that moment and hear the words that they said over and over, and rehearsing what I wish I had said back that I didn’t say, but, but what I wanted to highlight too, from your comment that I think super interesting is how unkind we speak to ourselves.

[00:06:07] It’s not just. hearing unkind things from others, but to your point, that conditioning around that can create these patterns of very unkind self-talk, and in some cases it gets so bad, it’s not even prompted. We just start beating ourselves up for no reason. And I’m curious from your perspective, 

[00:06:28] What’s the thing that puts us into that level of negative self-talk, even unprompted, and how would we turn that around if you were just gonna coach somebody right now, like, Hey, if you struggle with negative self-talk like Zach did, what’s the first thing we can do to reverse that? 

[00:06:46] Karyn Ross: Okay, so one of the things I, a lot of people don’t notice that their self-talk, right?

[00:06:54] They don’t notice it. It’s just, it’s just going on. In your mind. So I ask people actually to take a break and plan it into your day and actually to check your thoughts. Mm-hmm. So that’s actually, key behavior number two of the Think Kindly behaviors is check your thoughts. Okay. I love that. So actually 

[00:07:19] think about what you’re thinking, write it down. Right. Because when we write things down and we see them, another good lean principle, right? We see them absolutely. And they’re different. And then I want you to think to yourself, would I say this to someone else? And the truth is, we all make mistakes.

[00:07:36] Not a single one of us is perfect. No one. We all make mistakes. We all do things that we wish we hadn’t done. We all do things we wish we could have done better. And then I want you to write down what, what you’re thinking and say. Would I say this to someone else? If I have my leader hat on, would I say this to someone else?

[00:07:55] Chances are you’re gonna say, I would never say this to someone else. And then I want you to say to yourself, I wouldn’t say this to someone else, cuz it’s not kind. I shouldn’t say to myself either. And then, yes, I want you to write beside each one of those unkind things, I want you to reframe and rephrase and write down.

[00:08:16] A different way to say the same, you know, okay, maybe you made a mistake. So what you might say to your friend or your partner or your child is, that’s okay. What can we do to fix it? Or that’s okay. What could we do differently next time? Mm-hmm. And then every time you hear that thought again, I want you to stop it and substitute.

[00:08:41] Mm-hmm. The other thought instead. 

[00:08:44] Zach White: I love how simple that is and yet what I know for myself, the first resistance that comes in with any of these. Mindset exercises is the reality that it takes. Work intention. I love you said it right outta the gate. Block some time on your calendar for an intentional thought.

[00:09:02] Check-in and do this exercise. And just wanna put an exclamation point on that with the engineering leaders I coach, and so often it’s not that we’re asking. Someone to do rocket science here, but it takes time and we’re all so busy, so I love that. 

[00:09:19] Karyn Ross: I don’t actually think it’s only time, and I think back to our science, it’s inertia, right? So let’s think. There are actually principles that are scientifically, we’re on a trajectory and we’re going on that trajectory. And actually to change that trajectory. Yes, right. We need to do something differently.

[00:09:39] So I’m also gonna add that most people think that thinking comes first. And the way to change our actions is to change our thinking. I actually believe the opposite. Doing change thinking. So when you notice you’re having all those negative thoughts, Actually before you even need to put time on your calendar, you can do all those things.

[00:10:08] The thing I would first think about and first do is change your actions maybe you are saying those unkind things to other people. Mm-hmm. Maybe you are speaking like that when you have your leader hat on, so the very first thing you can do is differently. Right? Yeah. Action. Gonna 

[00:10:25] Zach White: change your thinking.

[00:10:27] Action, action. Action. Any of my clients who are listening to this will know that I agree with you in the spirit of action is so key to accelerating transformation and change in our lives and our careers. I like that inertia point too. You know, if we wanna create a shift in the trajectory, if we wanna change direction, it takes more effort and energy to get that.

[00:10:48] First change to happen, then it’s easier to maintain. So, alright, if, kindness is the answer to the leadership crisis, that’s what’s, posed in your book and this work. And I know a lot of people’s initial response mind was like, Hmm, really? Like, okay, let me, let me chew on that. That’s, that is a very new statement to make.

[00:11:09] Kindness is the answer to our leadership crisis. So would you start by. Giving us some depth of understanding what is kindness, the way you see it and what is it not? cuz I think it’s a word we throw around, like, be kind. It was very kind, kind of you to stop by today, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really gone deep into, in the context of leadership or what it, what is kindness really.

[00:11:35] So help me understand, Karen, what, what are we talking about and what are we not 

[00:11:40] Karyn Ross: sure? there’s a lot of misconceptions, so when I wrote The Kind Leader, I interviewed 28 leaders from all different kind of sectors and all levels of leadership from shop floor managers to CEOs, and I asked them to define kindness for me.

[00:11:59] And to a single person, they could not do it. They could tell me what an act of kindness is. Oh, you’re in the airport and someone drops their scarf in, someone else picks it up and gives it back to the other person. That’s kindness in action. Kindness, But what kindness really is that noun, they couldn’t define it.

[00:12:19] So here’s the definition that I created for the Kind Leader book. kindness is an. Action or set of actions that connects us to another person based on our feeling of empathy. So empathy, putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective, not your perspective from their perspective.

[00:12:46] And then feeling that compassion that arises when we’re in someone else’s shoes and looking at things from their perspective and saying, Hmm, that’s really not very easy, is it? Mm-hmm. It’s really difficult. Compassion is that feeling that arises of wanting to alleviate somebody’s suffering. Kindness is the action or set of actions we take with the express purpose.

[00:13:13] Of creating a positive effector outcome for that person. So we see and feel that suffering inside of us, and we choose to take a set of actions mm-hmm. To alleviate that suffering and make something better for somebody else. Okay. So if you just think about doing something, it’s not a kindness. And how does this actually fit in with our.

[00:13:41] Misconceptions about kindness and especially kindness at work. Yeah. All right. So we see that one of our team members, right? One of the fabulous people who give their time and effort to our organization and our team every single day, yeah, struggling. They’re actually not hitting the target that our team needs, that our customers need, that our organization needs.

[00:14:10] Oftentimes we think an unkind thing, they always struggle. They’re lazy. They don’t get to work on time. They don’t put in the same effort as other people do, right? Mm-hmm. We don’t, we don’t go and see and find out and ask what’s going on for their perspective, and then we say, oh, maybe we’ll put them on a performance plan.

[00:14:28] Maybe we’ll, fire them. Or maybe we just don’t do anything at all. That’s not kindness, because kindness means taking an action, right? So if we as leaders are going to practice kind leadership, we need to go to where they’re doing their work, right? Go check in with them as a person. Maybe their partner or their parent is super ill, right?

[00:14:55] We don’t know about it. Maybe it’s affecting their work. Then we need to. Ask them what’s going on for their perspective and listen with, as I always say, open eyes, open ears, open mind, and an open heart. And actually listen. Listen to what their perspective is. And as a leader, I’m gonna tell you it’s not gonna be easy because oftentimes people tell us things that.

[00:15:22] We don’t like, we don’t agree with, you don’t wanna hear, right? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Oh, this machine is 20 years old and no matter what I do, it actually won’t function properly. And oh, yes, the new machine might be a capital expense of a hundred thousand dollars, but actually nothing good is gonna happen unless we put in that dolly to get a new machine.

[00:15:43] Yeah. Okay. And then we have action, and I want you to think about it. That is a lot of work. Right. From a leader’s point of view. Right, That is a lot of work to actually do that. It’s a lot easier, and oftentimes we think, but maybe the person’s gonna be upset if we talk to them. Maybe I’m gonna have to put in time just for them.

[00:16:04] Maybe I’m gonna have to do something to help them outside of their work. That’s a lot of effort. Leaders are used to focusing on the result. Not necessarily on the how and the person, 

[00:16:16] Zach White: right? Mm-hmm. So, Karen, this definition, including. Empathy. Is it fair to say that empathy, being capable of exercising, empathy and being intentional to do so, having the EQ you know, just the approach to life that has an empathetic component is a prerequisite to leading kindly Or can someone really struggle with empathy but still exercise and act?

[00:16:49] The way that they would be called to as a kind leader. I mean, I, is it truly a prerequisite? Do we need to focus there first? 

[00:16:57] Karyn Ross: kind, kindness, and kind. Leadership is a practice that takes practice, okay? Empathy is a practice that takes practice too, right? And oftentimes people will say, well, I’m not very empathetic.

[00:17:12] And I say thank you for recognizing that in yourself. And just like anything else we would like to improve upon, the more we practice empathy, we have the possibility to become more empathetic. Yes, compassion is the same thing. Yes. 

[00:17:29] Zach White: Right. And then so can you give an example of an empathy practice?

[00:17:33] If, if I were to say Karen, I, I don’t think I’m very empathetic. I struggle with empathy. You know, my wife has told me I need to work on this, whatever it is. What would be the thing I would do intentionally to set aside, you know, the, the time or the space to practice empathy? What would that look like?

[00:17:52] Okay, so 

[00:17:52] video1333130135: I’m 

[00:17:52] Karyn Ross: gonna give you two examples. One is perfect. Work example, and one is a home example because we cannot actually divorce our, our work self and our home self. 

[00:18:02] Zach White: Totally agree. Let’s hear ’em. 

[00:18:04] Karyn Ross: I love this. Practice it So work example, You feel that you are, not empathetic. My suggestion would be, and I like the word deliberate rather than intentionally, because deliberate actually has the express meaning of being conscious.

[00:18:18] Of the effect of what you’re doing on someone else. And you can look that up in Maryam Webster dictionary. The difference between intentional and deliberate. So I use the word deliberate, you can deliberately every single day on your calendar, make time to go to the shop floor, whether it’s a service shop, floor, manufacturing, wherever that is for you.

[00:18:41] Yeah. Or wherever that is for you. And put your devices away. Just bring yourself and for half an hour sit down with someone who is totally opposite than you believe that you are. Mm-hmm. Right? Maybe they come from a different background. Maybe they do a job that you’ve never a chance to do. Maybe they have a different political or religious perspective.

[00:19:11] Right? Yeah. Go and sit down with them and then please try their job. You try it. You try it. Maybe it seems easy to you, but I will assure you it is not very easy because no job is very easy. People make it look easy. So that’s thing number one. 

[00:19:34] you have to actually.

[00:19:36] Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but you cannot do that unless you are doing what they are doing. Right, right. so when you’re at home, at home, we know people very well. We tend to actually think that we can read their mind or we really know, don’t you think?

[00:19:55] Yeah. Yeah. I’ve been married for 40 years, right. I in, in many ways we’re on automatic pilot, so at home I’d also like you to tell your partner or your child or whoever it is that you’re going do something that normally they do. Right? So, until I was 42, I was a at home mom and I raised children, and my husband is a professor and he is a professor of Asian studies and he took a group of students for four months to, Asia, two months to Beijing, and two months to Kyoto.

[00:20:35] And he took my two children, who at that time were 10 and 14, but every day I provided the. Home care for them. Right. And about two weeks into the trip, he called me and I could hear my daughter screaming in the background and he said, oh my goodness, what is going wrong? Like, is, is she ill? He said, no, I’m trying to put her hair in a ponytail.

[00:20:55] But he never that. Oh yeah, I understood what you’re doing all these years and I don’t think I ever thanked you. 

[00:21:06] Zach White: Wow. Yep. 

[00:21:08] Karyn Ross: Give it a try. You cannot put yourself in shoes unless you give a try to. What? 

[00:21:15] Zach White: So, I love the definition and I love the emphasis around action as well, which we touched on.

[00:21:23] Maybe that’ll come back and we can give some more ideas to leaders where to begin. But before I go there, I wanna address something that for me, came up as a, a question mark or a concern around this as an approach versus what we see in data sets of how to be successful in our careers and specifically, I know Jordan Peterson talks about this a lot, but there’s some, some data out there that measures different personality traits correlating that to career success, notably by hierarchical success promotions and moving up the career ladder and on the trait of agreeableness.

[00:22:02] So on one side, being a very agreeable person, very willing to compromise, always looking for that win-win. agreeable people. And on the other side of that dimension is disagreeable people that, they’re able and willing to be in conflict.they don’t fear that conflict. they’re quick to say no, they’re more disagreeable.

[00:22:20] And sometimes we’d say they’re hard to work with. and when you look at that attribute, And correlate, especially in professional work, more so than physical labor work. that disagreeable people have a higher proportion of success in senior leadership roles than agreeable people. And when I think of kindness, I tend to put it in that agreeable category.

[00:22:43] And so I, I wanted to ask you for one. Am I just making a false correlation or connection between or, you know, confounding the variables of agreeableness and kindness? And if so, help me to, to understand if I need to exercise some, disagreeable, quote unquote behavior in my personality and do it in a kind way, how would that look?

[00:23:06] So can you address that and just your thoughts overall? 

[00:23:10] Karyn Ross: what is being. Conflated here is the difference between kindness and niceness. Okay. 

[00:23:18] Zach White: Yeah. 

[00:23:18] Karyn Ross: Kind and nice are two different things. Nice. Actually tends to focus On us, So, uh, team member comes and tells you something and you just think, oh my goodness, it’s gonna take me just too much trouble to deal with this.

[00:23:36] Or they’re not a very productive person. And you know what? you just say something nice to ’em, say, it’s okay. Don’t worry about, it’ll be okay, and you don’t spend the time to deal with it, right? Mm-hmm. That might seem agreeable. I would say that it’s unkind. Okay. Okay. Kindness, remember, has to do.

[00:24:00] With creating a positive effect and outcome for someone else, taking an action to create a positive effect and outcome for someone else. So if you just are agreeable and you say, yeah, yeah, yeah, everything is okay, don’t worry about it. It’ll all, it’ll all turn out okay. And the person gets fired because you were nice.

[00:24:16] Was that kind? Hmm. We didn’t help the person learn anything that they needed to learn. We didn’t help the person. Become a better worker. The traits that people bring to work tend to be, because we’re one person. If you struggle with things at work, chances are people are struggling with those things in their life 

[00:24:37] Zach White: at home.

[00:24:37] Yeah, If 

[00:24:38] Karyn Ross: we don’t help them at work, how are we gonna get better at home? Chances are struggling out in the community too. So being kind. It doesn’t mean you don’t say no, because the truth is, if you don’t say no to behavior that someone is doing that’s actually harming them, first of all, you’re being unkind and enabling is a lot different than taking an action.

[00:25:05] Mm-hmm. That creates a positive, a factory outcome, For someone else. So I, and. The companies that I work with will always say, Karen is very firm and fair. Yeah, and the thing is how you give someone a message that has to do with kindness, right? If somebody is struggling, if the target is 22 an hour and the person is doing 11, it’s my job to go and see, to check in with them, to go to where they are, to sit down, to figure out.

[00:25:44] What is preventing them from closing that gap of 11? Helping them figure it out. Right? This is gonna take a lot of my time and energy, but this is what kindness is. Maybe there’s gonna be a whole bunch of other kind of things we’re gonna have to deal with. That’s my job. That’s what kindness is. But if I never said, Hey, there is a problem here because you are not producing the 11 that our customers in our organization needs.

[00:26:10] Yeah, that would be extremely unkind. 

[00:26:13] Zach White: And so Karen, if I take that example and keep moving forward, one of the things that this really helps, I think, distinguish for me, and I’m sure you know, anyone who’s been there will understand. Sometimes you don’t feel like that warm fuzziness. In terms of the action, but it can still be kind.

[00:26:33] And so, you know, to your point, somebody’s struggling to meet the quota or they’re not delivering on a project. They’re late on some key deliverables for a new design or new line of code that needs, you know, a line of code too, hundreds or thousands of lines of code. So starting from a place of kindness is seeking to understand the empathy, all these pieces, working with them, helping them.

[00:26:54] But sometimes we do reach a point as leaders where that person does not show up. The way they need to, to close that gap, or they demonstrate an unwillingness to be coachable or the, you know, we get to the point where now, I’ve exercised empathy and kindness, but it’s not, It’s not happening, right?

[00:27:12] They’re not closing the gap. They’re still at 11 outta 22. Even with all of my kind actions and it’s time to take a disciplinary action, whether that’s a PIP or to let this person go, et cetera. Those things don’t feel kind to most people like is, but what we’re saying here is like, hey, the feeling the emotion of it is not the same as the.

[00:27:30] Actual for their benefit definition that you’re talking about is, do I have that right? Or how would you articulate that? And 

[00:27:36] Karyn Ross: the other thing that I need to think about, okay, as we’re going through this process, maybe you have a team member who thought this is what they want to do and they’re trying to do it.

[00:27:43] And you can see as a leader, they don’t have the talent for it, they don’t have the skill for it. You can see that it doesn’t make them very happy. Mm-hmm. While you’re going through this, maybe one of the other things you’re doing is you’re helping them see. What their strengths are. Yeah. You’re looking in other areas of your company and saying, well, maybe this person isn’t a fit right here, but actually they are, super manual dextrous or something like, like whatever those things are, and you’re looking in other places to find a better place for them.

[00:28:19] So actually helping someone understand that this, what I’m doing now isn’t the thing that I really. Want to stay doing for the rest of my life because I’m probably going to be unhappy. Mm-hmm. And then help them find the place they’re supposed to be and going to that place and having that discussion while you’re working on these things.

[00:28:38] That’s kind. Yeah. I love that. Think to the person, you’re useless. You’re never gonna be good at this. You have no talent. That is unkind, and that’s what tends to happen, right? 

[00:28:51] Zach White: Mm-hmm. I think this is a really important thing for. Everyone to wrap their head around with your work is, we’re not saying, always be soft or don’t have high standards, or don’t call people to be at their best.

[00:29:04] you can be kind in all these situations, and I love this, this lens of, it’s that extra step of not just saying, oh, you don’t have what it takes to meet the standard for this job, so you’re fired. Good day. Next person. I don’t care about you. Versus to say, look, you’re not gonna. Get there. You don’t have what it takes right now, but you’re still an awesome person.

[00:29:26] I would love to support you finding your strengths and help you find a place within this company or elsewhere. You know, here’s some ideas for you, here’s some resources for you. It’s not in service of you or the company, and frankly, it’s not kind to your, your team either to keep low performers. that’s not a win either.

[00:29:43] So I think that’s a really important lens that. Kindness is not, like I said, it’s not the same as nice. It’s not always agreeing, it’s not lowering the standard. it’s a way that you show up as a leader that takes that exactly. Extra effort, but it’s worth 

[00:29:59] Karyn Ross: it. And I’d like to, because the, the third myth we will debunk here is that kind leaders are weak leaders.

[00:30:08] Oof. You know what? It takes a huge amount of strength to. Put that time on your calendar to go and help someone to sit with them and see what they’re doing to actually take the time to mentor them, to help them to look outside of your organization for, other jobs that may be better. To go and talk to HR or to go and talk to managers in other areas and say, I have this person, these, that takes a huge amount of strength.

[00:30:35] You know, what’s weak? Weak is losing your temper and screaming at someone. So of course we all do it once in a while. Let’s talk. That’s weakness. Weakness is firing someone because you don’t wanna put the time and energy Yep. Into helping them. Kindness and kind. Leadership takes an unbelievably amount of strength.

[00:30:54] It takes a lot of strength when you feel that you are losing your temper because you are triggered by something and I guarantee you, we are all triggered by things to say to the person. Time out. I am losing my temper and I’m gonna be unkind. So I’m gonna just walk myself back to my office until I can calm myself down.

[00:31:12] For sure. 

[00:31:12] Zach White: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And 

[00:31:14] Karyn Ross: come back. And if we modeled that behavior and people learned that and took it home when their children misbehaved, when they had an argument with their partner, when they didn’t get along with their neighbor cuz their neighbor did. If we modeled that behavior when we had our leader hat on and our people learned that, think about what a kinder world we would have, that’s how they would act.

[00:31:39] That’s 

[00:31:39] Zach White: what it would work really good. I know one of the exercises that I do with my engineering leaders that I coach is a deep dive into core values. And what’s cool is how much of this approach aligns with the things that I see come up in that exercise with almost 100% of the people who I’ve worked with.

[00:31:58] So I, I know this is gonna resonate. For engineering leaders who are looking for almost a sense of permission and belief that leading this way will work. Because to your point, the broader narrative is, you know, you can’t be a kind leader. you’re gonna get run over, you’re gonna be a doormat. That’s weakness, you’re not gonna get the results.

[00:32:15] All those things we’ve been talking about today. So I wanna ask you one question just 

[00:32:20] Karyn Ross: quickly. Go ahead. Go ahead. That I have a client I’ve had for quite a while and they work in pharmacy. And they just got a huge promotion to Director of Pharmacy for an entire hospital. And the reason that they told them they got the promotion was that the person said, when asked to bill what their leadership style was, they said, I lead with kindness and describe this whole approach.

[00:32:50] And they were hired, right? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. This is the time people are looking for this now. Mm. 

[00:32:56] Zach White: Karen, I hesitate to even go here because I, I imagine it’s a whole nother conversation to be had at a later time. But really briefly, if I were hearing this for the first time and I was back in my whirlpool days, one of the things that probably would’ve popped in my mind is, okay, I’m, I’m all in.

[00:33:15] I believe it. I wanna do this, but Karen, you should meet my boss. He or she is not a kind leader. What do I do about that? And so if you were gonna give you one insight, obviously we don’t have the luxury of reaching in and changing the hearts and minds of our leaders, directly, but how do I use my own actions behaviors in the best possible way?

[00:33:38] If I’m underneath unkind leadership, 

[00:33:43] Karyn Ross: this is probably the. Biggest question people ask me. we’re all used to working in organizations where we have big transformational efforts, right? We do lean or we do agile or any second. Many of the billions of things. And people tell us it’s a journey and it’s gonna take a million years, right?

[00:34:00] And we’re never really gonna get there. I’ll tell you the thing about kind leadership. Kind leadership starts with you and it starts with your one action. Because the truth is, in a way, it doesn’t matter actually if your boss changes or not, because every time you act or react kindly to someone, you speak kindly to someone.

[00:34:21] You change your thought from an unkind thought about someone to a kind one, you’re actually having an instant transformation, instant transformation. And you will make the lives of your customers better. Yeah. The one person you’re kind to, you’ll make the lives of your team members better, and if that unkind leader never changes, there is not much we can do about that.

[00:34:46] But we do not have to replicate that unkind cycle. Your action. Breaks that cycle and the transformation is instantaneous. 

[00:34:58] Zach White: There it is. You’re not gonna get any argument from me on that answer. Double down, exclamation point. Karen, thank you so much again for your kindness today and where can engineering.

[00:35:10] Leaders get connected with you if they wanna understand more about this work, get resources around kind leadership. Also all of your work prior to this book around lean and creativity in the workplace. There’s so much to connect to. What’s the best way for people to find out more? 

[00:35:26] Karyn Ross: The best way is to connect with me on LinkedIn and I actually put a post on LinkedIn every single day.

[00:35:34] And so, Please connect with me. Also, you can visit my website, 

[00:35:43] Zach White: Amazing and happy engineer. I’m talking to you right now. I would love for you to go follow Karen. Check out her content, fill your mind with kindness so it will come out of you in the workplace. And also if you’re interested in this material, the kind leader, a practical guide to eliminating fear, creating trust, and leading with kindness.

[00:36:03] Karen’s new book, I’m going to give the first. Three of you who email me a free copy of that book, I’m gonna ship that to you directly. So shoot me an email, Zack oasis of, z a c h. Just put, uh, you know, free kindness book in the subject line and your mailing address, your name and mailing address in that email.

[00:36:25] First three people who send that in. We’re gonna get you a free copy of this book because it’s a message everybody needs to hear. So Karen, thank you again and I’m really excited to hear. Your thoughts about this last question, and as a lean practitioner, as a leadership coach and expert, you live in this world.

[00:36:44] You know, questions that we ask are so important because questions lead and the answers follow, and we’re all looking for better answers. So what would be the question that you would lead the happy engineer with today? 

[00:36:59] Karyn Ross: The question I would lead the happy engineer with is what is the first step? That you are going to take right after you hear this to act, speak, and think more kindly.

[00:37:15] Zach White: The first step you will take, not you might like to, or one day when you get around to it, what is that first step you will take? Karen, this has been tremendous. Thanks again so much. 

[00:37:27] Karyn Ross: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the show.