Innovate June 2017

3 Acts of Kindness Can Make You More Successful


Written By: Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick

We are hardwired to remember the negative things in our lives. It’s a defense mechanism that is built into us humans. After all, when early man lived on the savannah, recalling those bad things kept him or her alive — “Oh yeah, that’s where a lion lives, I won’t go there again,” or “Yikes, that noise is a rattlesnake, I’d better back up.”

The trouble is, thousands of years later, our minds still believe that focusing on the negative will keep us safe. We tend to forget that we aren’t surviving in the wild but trying to thrive in a modern world.

And still, negative memories stick like Teflon.

Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, developed many of the ideas used today in Positive Psychology. One of his concepts is an exercise called “3 Good Things.” Seligman suggests that each night, just before bedtime, people remember three good things that happened during that day and how they helped bring those good things about. Those positive memories are then processed during our REM sleep. The theory is we’ll wake up more optimistic and confident. Following that advice for just two weeks has helped test subjects feel effects not unlike Prozac.

It seems we can short-circuit our human tendency to the negative by remembering just three good things every day.

Can a similar concept improve our work lives?

The research is compelling that positive work cultures are more productive and profitable than negative cultures. In 1992, John Kotter and James Heskett of the Harvard School of Business unveiled the findings of an 11-year study that found positive cultures had stock growth 10 times higher than organizations with negative workplaces. Revenue growth was more than four times greater in the positive than the negative. It’s a no-brainer that positivity will breed productivity in our teams.

But how do we do it? Here’s a simple challenge that won’t take a lot of time or money but can make a big difference: Every day for the next two weeks commit to three random acts of kindness at work.

Your daily acts of kindness might be as simple as:

• Rolling up your sleeves to help a coworker who’s underwater

• Giving a handwritten note of thanks for a job well done

• Sharing a lead or helping make follow-up calls

• Helping with a colleague’s paperwork

• Teaching a new employee about a process

• Dropping off a favorite soda in the afternoon to a team member as a pick-me-up

• Offering to do someone’s least favorite task

• Praising a teammate in a staff meeting

• Remembering someone’s birthday

• Buying lunch for a few people on the team you don’t know well

So the challenge: for two weeks, do not go home until you’ve done your three random acts of kindness, even if they are small. Over time, we hope you’ll find these acts are creating a better team culture, and that you are more positive as well.

By making a better workplace for others, we make ourselves better leaders.

“The research is compelling that positive work cultures are more productive and profitable than negative cultures. In 1992, John Kotter and James Heskett of the Harvard School of Business unveiled the findings of an 11-year study that found positive cultures had stock growth 10 times higher than organization s with negative workplaces. Revenue growth was more than four times greater in the positive than the negative.”

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick  have spent two decades helping clients engage their employees to execute on strategy, vision and values. In their provocative, inspiring and always entertaining talks, these #1 bestselling leadership authors provide real solutions for leaders looking to manage change, drive innovation, and lead multi-generational workforces. Their work is supported by research with more than 850,000 working adults, revealing the proven secrets behind high-performance cultures. They are co-founders of the training company The Culture Works and authors of the #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers All In, The Carrot Principle and What Motivates Me. Their books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold 1.5 million copies around the world.

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