What You Do Matters!

I felt my body chill, as if my blood were running cold. I was at the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum standing in the replica of a family's room in the Ghetto.  I listened a woman say “My mother would never talk about it." I stood there frozen. I couldn't begin to imagine the horror her mother experienced, I told her, barely getting the words out.

I visited the Holocaust Museum in DC that day for an explicit reason. My son is student teaching this semester and his 9th grade class is reading The Diary of Anne Frank and studying the Holocaust. Perhaps I could find material to enhance those lessons. Since I've been through the entire museum before, this time I only explored one exhibit Remember the Children: Daniel's Story. When I left, a couple approached me asking if I'd take their picture in front of the museum’s sign. Of course I did. Without asking, I knew they were not mere DC tourists. This experience was personal on some level for them. Their faces were beaming as I snapped several photos. Their gratitude was evident.  I was curious. I really wanted to learn their story, their connection to this horrible history, but didn't want to intrude. Atrocities are often best left unsaid.

Reflecting on the incident as I made my way home, I wondered if by complying with their simple request to take their picture, if I engaged in an act of Radical Kindness. Radical Kindness is about showing the world that kindness, no matter how small, makes a big difference in others’ lives and in your own. It complements a saying I saw in the Museum -- What You Do Matters. What a powerful message.

There are so many powerful leadership lessons we can draw from that saying.  Actions have consequences. We all need to be accountable. James Damore, the Googler who wrote and posted an internal memo critical of the company's diversity policies, was not practicing radical kindness. Promoting stereotypes is not kind. It wasn’t his beliefs that got him fired, it was his actions. They had consequences. What you do matters.

Build a culture of kindness in your organization, especially if your organization’s values include honesty, integrity and respect. Kindness can be a powerful intervention. It can foil tensions from escalating. It can stop conflict in its tracks. What you do matters.

I recently learned that the founder of LaMadeleine the French Country Café chain, when he visited restaurants, first went into the kitchens to speak with the cooks and dishwashers, next made his way out to the cashiers and team members who worked directly with the customers, and only then did he seek out the managers. What you do matters.

As leaders, go out of your way to be gracious. Walk around your organization. Talk to all the employees – ask them how they are doing. Take a moment to be genuinely curious about them in a purposeful, genuine, and respectful way. Offer a kind word. Tell them they’re doing great work!  What you do matters.

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