21 Days Of Kindness

kindness braceletI recently had the privilege to receive a second helping of Olivia McIvor's wisdom on the topic of kindness and compassion in the workplace. It was a return visit by Olivia to the PEMCO Interactive Leadership Series where her message was heard and enthusiastically embraced by nearly 100 leaders from throughout the organization.
Among the many key messages was a challenge to build a consistent habit of kindness. Olivia applauded the era of "random acts of kindness" but said it was time to be more deliberate - to make the shift to "conscious acts of kindness" - encouraging us to be purposeful for a period of twenty-one days. It's a simple thought, but one that is seldom discussed among leaders in the workplace. 

Olivia gave each of us a Kindness Foundation wristband to help us remember our commitments to conscious acts of kindness. I began wearing mine yesterday and will continue for the next three weeks. Each time I purposely make time to demonstrate an act of kindness to a colleague or customer I'll move the band to the opposite wrist. At the end of each day I'll select one of those acts, or my theme for the day and post it here.  If all goes as planned a new habit will be formed and a kinder CMO will emerge.  I'll be interested in your feedback as the list grows.
This blog page was inadvertantly deleted and I was unable to recover day 16 and 17. Until the entries are rewritten - and that might not happen - I can only share the sentiment from each day in summary form.
kumquatDay 17 - Behind the scenes. For every person that you see out front at a resort or hotel there are usually many others working behind the scenes to make your experience the best it can be. Take time to notice them and say thank you when you get the chance.
kindness card rodDay 16 - Recognizing teammates. It's special when a leader is able to anticipate and consciously envision celebratory acts of kindness at the conclusion of a project. I was on a team recently where our facilitator did just that - and she encourage us to make note of contributions that should be recognized and celebrated both verbally and within a hand written note.
McDonalds Drive UpDay 15 - Surprise at the drive.  This morning I headed out on my morning walk with two purposes in mind. The first was to push myself a little harder than usual to increase the benefit from the exercise. The second was to deliver a conscious act of kindness - a surprise for someone - that I could identify along the way.

The sun was out and the walk was moving along briskly. After about twenty minutes I had one of those unexpected moments when "nature called." Before long I was in a much needed hunt for a public restroom. If you've been there before, then you know how uncomfortable and urgent the search can become. My pace quickened as the need became more and more real. And then I saw it. About two blocks ahead was a McDonald's Restaurant and that became my short term goal. 

As I approached the restaurant, the drive-in window caught my eye and I had my answer for how to create a kind surprise. Right after taking care of my more pressing priority. 

Feeling comfortable again, I went to the counter as if to place an order. "How may I help you?" the McDonalds employee asked. That's when I surprised him with a request that would extend a kindness to someone neither of us have ever met.

"I'd like you to take this money and use it to pay for the next few orders that come through the drive through," I told him. "No questions asked. Just tell them that their meal has been paid for and wish them a cheerful day."

The employee smiled widely and told me that was the coolest thing he'd ever heard while working at McDonalds. He would let the drive-up attendant know right away. The two of us shared a knowing smile and I continued, more comfortably, on my way. 

 14 - "It's Up To You."  It was an overcast and rainy vacation day in Palm Springs. A day without much fanfare spent in our PJ's reading books, watching movies, and making puzzles. Some might consider it a vacation day wasted, but not us. We were relaxing and enjoying just being together. With so little going on, the string of purposeful acts of kindness might be in jeopardy. So I thought a little harder and kept it simple. I made sure that Cindy and Judy knew that I would be more than happy to take them into old Palm Springs if they wanted to dodge the raindrops and do some shopping. Anyone who knows me will understand why that qualifies as a purposeful act of kindness. I'm a much better buyer than I am a shopper. 

While in one of the many unique galleries and boutiques, the shop owner told us about the Thursday night street festival. Local artisans would be putting up booths to sell their wares from 5 to 10 PM. Cindy's eyes lit up and I knew that there was a good chance we'd be spending more time downtown. I decided to enjoy the moment knowing that Cindy and Judy we're enjoying their shopping. We went for a drink and appetizers and I suggested that we go back out and explore the booths. "If you'd like to do some more shopping, it's up to you."

kindness sandwich
Day 13 - Sandwiches.  Sometimes a conscious act of kindness is nothing more than surprising someone when a surprise isn't expected. I'm not talking about a surprise birthday party or a diamonds on her birthday surprise. Not at all. I'm talking about something as simple as making a plate of sandwiches on a Wednesday afternoon. That was all I did today.  Cindy and my sister Judy - while we vacationed together in Palm Springs - left our condo and went to read by the pool while I completed a phone call with a non-profit group that I'm involved with. When my call was complete I checked with the two women to see if there was anything I could do for them before I came over to join them at the pool. Cindy replied that I could make lunch and bring it over. She said it, but she didn't expect it. And I didn't expect to actually do it either. Until I thought about it and asked myself why would I do more to be kind to people I haven't met than I would for two people I love. The question sounded absurd. So I pulled out the bread, ham, cheese and all that is needed for an amazing sandwich complimented with chips and beverages. When I revealed my work at the side of the pool, Cindy beamed with surprise and appreciation. And the sandwich wasn't too bad either. Kindness comes in all sizes and sometimes the little things mean the most.

kindness walkDay 12 - Smile connections.  While on vacation in Palm Springs I try to include at least an hour of walking as part of my daily activity. This morning, I left our timeshare and walked a few of the neighborhood pathways that meander through palm tree lined resort properties. Before long, I came upon a landscape maintenance crew who were pruning trees and raking leaves. While doing their job they had made a mess across the walking path in two or three locations. It was no big deal, but it did require those of us who were using the path to leave the sidewalk and walk across the lawn to get beyond them. The piles and workers were separated by about 50 yards. As I navigated past the first pile the first worker that I encountered paused what he was doing, greeted me with a smile, and greeted me with a pleasant good morning. The second pair of workers that I encountered looked at me as if I was had chosen the wrong place to be walking and was an unwelcome interruption to their day. They glared as I approached them and walked around their work area.

I continued on my way and eventually turned around for the return trip. The path was such that I had to retrace my steps and pass by the workers for a second time. I passed by the pair of grouchy landscapers and came to the man working solo. He looked up from his work and shared a wide smile for a second time. I acknowledged him with a wave and continued on. After about 10 steps I paused and removed a $20 bill from my wallet. I turned around and went back to where the man was working. When he saw me approaching he removed his ear buds and said hello. I walked up to him and told him that I appreciated the way that he greeted me earlier in the day. I acted as if I was simply going to shake his gloved hand and when he extended it I placed the $20 bill in his palm. I told him it was my way of thanking him for sharing a smile and connecting with me earlier in my walk. That's when he told me that he had a young daughter that he was hoping to buy a nice Christmas present for. He said my gift would help to make that possible. You never know how or where a connection is going to present itself. The more I watch for them the more opportunities I'm able to discover.

Kindness vacation
Day 11 - Vacation guest.  Several years ago Cindy and I bought shares in a 20-year timeshare vacation club that enables us to spend a week in a location that we might not otherwise visit. That's the good news. The sad news is that we nearly lost a week of use by allowing our points to expire. When we realized our mistake, we reserved a week in Palm Springs that began today. At the time we booked the vacation, we weren't even sure that we would be able to use the unit, but if we couldn't, we knew we'd be able to sell it, donate it, or give it away. In order to use all the points that we would lost, we requested a spacious two bedroom condo. More room that is needed for the two of us, but just right for a small family.

When our plans became more certain and we knew we would use the vacation ourselves, I thought about how to use the extra space and decided to invite two of my sisters to take the vacation with us. Unfortunately, Janet's work schedule prevented her from joining us, but Judy jumped at the chance. She purchases a plane ticket that coordinated with our flight times and here we are. That purposeful act of kindness is giving us a special time together that we wouldn't have otherwise had.

kindness Prancers
Day 10 - Up and running.  Sunday was day eleven and it was also a day when I REALLY would have enjoyed the opportunity to sleep in and make up for the very late night of gift wrapping and packing the night before. But alas, that was not to me. Not if I was going to keep my promise and be part of the PEMCO Prancers team photo prior to the annual Jingle Bell Run in Seattle. The event is one that raises much needed funding for the Arthritis Foundation.

It is my third year of participating with the Prancers with both a financial contribution and by being present and involved in the event. Last year, when I was at least 35 pounds heavier, the Prancer team captain encouraged me to walk the event with her. She slowed her speed down and made sure that I had a good time. It's part of what caused me to make my commitment to walking for my own health and enjoyment on a more regular basis. I sure couldn't let her down by not showing up.

Today I learned that not only did our team do well, we raised $4225 which was the 8th best team out of more than 400 teams that were entered. I think we can all be very proud of our conscious act of kindness... and our willingness to do without a couple extra hours of sleep on a chilly December morning.

Giving TreeDay 9 - The Giving Tree:  Saturday was all about finishing the Christmas shopping for my out of state family. The goal was to have each of the gifts purchased, wrapped, packaged, and mailed before leaving for a week of vacation Monday morning.

In addition to my children and grandchildren, I also wanted to look for opportunities that would extend a hand to others who could use one. A friend of mine inspired me when I read of his annual commitment to find (and anonymously pay for) the merchandise someone he'd never met had put on layaway at one of the local department stores. It sounded like a great idea and is one that I might borrow one day. But for today, I had something else on my mind. I was thinking about the Holiday Giving Tree that was being sponsored by PEMCO employees to benefit children of families who have been forced to make their homes in tents and make-shift shelters on the streets of Seattle. All they wanted was clothing and shelter - one asked for a three-man tent - to help them stay warm during our cold, wet winter. 

As I went about my shopping I found small ways to support fund raising efforts that others had initiated. At one store the contribution was to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, at another the request was to support a local animal shelter, and of course there was the annual appearance of the now silent bell ringers on behalf of the Salvation Army. All good causes and efforts that I was happy to support. Still, the homeless children that needed clean warm clothing were at the front of my mind. Each time I made a purchase for a family member I felt a stronger tug to shop for A Giving Tree recipient. Before the day was done I returned home feeling satisfied that I had done the right thing. The best hour of my shopping was spent carefully selecting thermal underwear, wool socks, a flannel shirt, gloves, a hat, and a warm fleece jacket that will go to a teenage boy that I will never know.  I hope that those of you who are able will join me and help warm a child's life this holiday season as well. Happy holidays everyone! (4 transfers of the kindness bracelet)

kindness coffee

Day 8 - Kindness Coffee:  When I arrived at the office, I entered through the security door and said good morning to the guard on duty, just as I do nearly every day. The only other person in sight was Cheryl, our PEMCO front desk receptionist, waiting for the next elevator. Cheryl is one of those people who is always smiling and full of cheer. I made an instant decision to beat her to the punch and immediately said, "Good morning Cheryl. You're the first person I've seen this morning and I want to wish you the best for a great Friday. Let's get it started with a free latte from the espresso stand in the PEMCO Cafe. Here's one of the free beverage cards that I bought earlier this week. A gift from me to you!" 

I think Cheryl was in shock for a moment and then her good natured and plentiful thank you's kicked in. I told her that I'd bought the "kindness coffee" cards and was on the lookout for opportunities to make someone's day in a way that wasn't expected. It was about then that we both realized that neither of us had pushed the elevator button. We laughed out loud, pressed the button, and visited on the way to the fifth floor where Cherly went immediately to purchase her morning coffee. What a great way to start the day. 

I got so much pleasure from my exchange with Cheryl that I went for a second encounter by surprising Mary, one of our sales administrative assistants, with a "kindness coffee" later in the morning. She was equally surprised, delighted, and full of appreciative smiles. I think I might be onto something!

The final deliberate act of kindness, and the one most important to me today, took place early in the afternoon. I had 15 minutes to seek out and visit with my newest Facebook friend and PEMCO colleague, Renee.  I admitted to Renee that I felt embarrassed and disappointed that she and I had both been working at PEMCO for over 13 years and I didn't remember who she was or whether or not we had ever had a conversation. I told her that I would like to buy her coffee when I return from vacation and get to know her a little better. You see, Renee gets this kindness thing and is a truly inspiring person. And more that that, she's humble and forgiving. She appreciated our conversation and assured me that I had nothing to worry about. We would start our new friendship on common ground and grow it from where we are starting today.  Renee... THAT'S an act of kindness from you to me that I appreciate! (3 transfers of the kindness bracelet).

kindness small

Day 7 - New friends, country Christmas and other small things.  Today was different from the rest. I awoke thinking about a new Facebook friend - a colleague at PEMCO that I don't know well - and the way she has inspired me with her commitment to kindness. I discovered yesterday that Renee was going all in. She attended the same workshop that I did and immediately committed to performing 39 conscious acts of kindness before her 39th birthday on December 18th. I read several of her stories and could see that she was truly making a difference. She caused me to think and wonder "why don't I know this woman?" Finding time to get to know her is on my list of important things to do. I'm really looking forward to it.

Today was a hard day for significant acts of kindness. My calendar was full and I knew I wasn't going to be in places where I could really make a difference. So I kept it purposeful and genuine. Small acts can be meaningful too. I began by taking a new CD that I recently purchased to work and gave it to my assistant to add to her library. I knew she enjoyed the artist and would appreciate the country Christmas songs that he recorded. Her smile and enthusiastic "thank you" assured me that I was right. During the course of the day I had the opportunity to send "kudos cards" to two members of the PEMCO staff, thank a team member for the extra effort he went to in order to help me complete an important task, and write and recite an annual holiday poem as a toast to the members of PEMCO's product and underwriting departments. I had lunch with a dear friend, gave my step-daughter some surprise cash that she wasn't expecting, and feel good about the way my day turned out. I'm learning that it's not necessary to stress out about the size or quality of our kindness. It all counts! (4 transfers of the kindness bracelet).                 

free lunch 2

Day 6 – A Free Lunch. Imagine what it might be like to select your lunch from your workplace cafeteria and, after waiting in line to pay for it, being told that it was your lucky day – that someone had left money and instructions with the cashier to pay for the next person’s lunch who came through the line. And, the cashier would add, to do so without saying who left the money.  That’s what happened in the PEMCO cafeteria today. It was a conscious act of kindness that I wanted to extend. It wasn’t important to me who the recipient was. Nor did it matter that I wouldn’t be thanked or acknowledged. It was only important that I made the effort to pleasantly surprise a colleague and bring a smile to someone’s face that they probably didn’t expect.

It was interesting to me that when I approached the cashier and explained what I wanted to do she looked at me with surprise and asked “why?!”  I replied that it was just something nice that I wanted to do for someone else. She replied by saying, “Oh… because it’s Christmas time.” Apparently it helps some people to believe there is a reason for kindness to occur. (1 transfer of the kindness bracelet).                 

Thank YouDay 5 - Saying Thank You.  Two PEMCO managers, Eva and Eric, stepped up today and facilitated a content packed planning meeting for a room filled with executives and senior leaders from throughout the company. The two were amazingly organized, upbeat, encouraging and focused. They made what could have been a very difficult day of heavy discussions enjoyable and productive. They put it all together, without hesitation or complaint, with only two business days of lead time to prepare. When the meeting was over I went to my office and sent hand-written thank you notes to each of them as a gesture of my appreciation. It's not much, but my experience has been that even the smallest acts of kindness and recognition make a meaningful difference to the recipients. It left me with a good feeling too! (1 transfer of the kindness bracelet).                 
Day 4 - Have Someone's Back.  Today began like any other Monday... at least until my assistant arrived. Jill is a rockstar executive assistant and is someone who I trust and rely on without hesitation. This morning I could tell that she was challenged. Within minutes of her arrival, she came into my office and told me that she was concerned about the end of our week. She further explained the schedule challenges that she was juggling between her work schedule and her family responsibilities. It didn't take long for her to share her concerns and she departed from my office as quickly as she had arrived. It was then that it occurred to me that a conscious act of kindness would be to assure her that I understood her challenge and would have her back if she needed to leave early on any of the days in question. I encouraged her to relax and know that it would not be a problem. My goal was to relieve her anxiety and concern. Jill wrote me a note that simply said, "Thanks for having my back."  (1 transfer of the kindness bracelet)
As I went to move my kindness bracelet from one wrist to the other the rubber bracelet snapped. It was intended to be my reminder for three weeks and now it was broken.  I sent a quick email note to Olivia McIvor and told her about my situation. She wrote back, with a smile, that she wouldn't let me go with out a functioning bracelet. I'm happy to report that there are more in the mail to me as we speak!
Today I sent three appreciation cards to members of PEMCO's product department to recognize contributions that they have recently made to our business.  (3 transfers of the kindness bracelet)                             
Acts of Kindness
Day 3 - Relaxation Moment  I spent more time thinking about today's purposeful act of kindness than it took to execute it. I was home alone for the majority of the day and I had a difficult time envisioning how to express kindness when there was no one here to be kind to. I realize that I could write or call someone, but that didn't have the right feel for today. So I decided to give a gift of relaxation. 

When Cindy got home from her weekend trip she had been driving for several hours. I knew that she would appreciate a chance to simply relax. So when the evening got quiet and she was ready to settle in for the night, I offered her the choice of a back massage or fifteen minutes during which I would brush her hair. That might sound a little funny, but I know she really enjoys both. I was right. My offer surprised her and she asked me what was going on. Why was I making the offer?  It gave me a chance to tell her about my plan for 21 days of kindness. Cindy selected the back massage... and she's looking forward to benefiting from a purposeful act of kindness on several more of the 21 days in the future.
 (1 transfer of the kindness bracelet).

Day 2 - Surprise Gift.  Not long after waking this morning I thought about what a purposeful act of kindness might look like today. Home alone for the weekend, I knew my act would be outside the home and likely for someone that I don't already know. I'd need to look for the opportunity. And then, when I least expected it, I saw a Facebook post from a family friend who lives in West Virginia. Rachel is a young professional who recently became an Avon representative in her spare time. Her status update was notifying her friends of a deadline for Christmas orders. That's when I knew what to do. I wrote to Rachel and asked her to make up an order for another young woman of high school or college age. I told her I would send a check to cover the purchase if she could help me find an appropriate recipient. Not only was I able to support my friends business but I was able to give a gift to someone who might not otherwise receive one.  Rachel responded that not only would she help me with my act of kindness, but she was inspired to add something to it on her own. Now that feels great! (1 transfer of the kindness bracelet).

Day 1 - Acknowledge others. This morning I had the opportunity to publicly acknowledge one of my direct reports when she demonstrated the corporate values of integrity and courage during a meeting with members of our executive team and staff.  Later in the day I sent two handwritten cards to people in the organization - one to a member of the executive admin team for helping me with two small administrative items without hesitation; and the other to a supervisor who has proactively enabled her staff to raise the performance bar in their area of responsibility by making additional training and support available to her team. In all three situations it felt good to acknowledge the efforts of others without expecting anything in return. (3 transfers of the kindness bracelet).

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