Want to be a great leader? Take the Kindness Challenge

Do you think of yourself as a kind person? A generous leader?  In what ways are you unkind – sabotaging your work life in the process — without ever realizing it?  Shaunti Feldhahn, speaker, social researcher, and author of The Kindness Challenge, spent years researching what makes relationships great, and discovered it is a specific type of kindness. She developed the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, in which 4word is excited to be a partner! Read more, and find out how you can take the 4word 30-Day Kindness Challenge!


4word: What led to developing this challenge? Why focus on “kindness?”

Shaunti: Over the years I noticed a thread running through my studies: Whether or not you thrive in your life, work, and relationships is far more related to how you treat other people than how you yourself are treated.

As believers, we know this! We just don’t always live that way. And our culture definitely doesn’t understand the idea. There’s such a tendency to stand up for ourselves instead; to look out for our rights and our happiness. But giving that up and being kind is what usually gets you a better life, makes you a better leader, and brings you more happiness.

Saying “be kind” can seem a bit vague.  But we found kindness is made up of three very practical elements: withholding negativity, saying and thinking affirming things, and actually doing something – small acts of generosity.  And doing that purposefully will improve almost any relationship.

For example, imagine that the situation with your colleague, boss, spouse or step-mother is a bit contentious.  And you really want it to be positive instead.  Do what we call “The 30-Day Kindness Challenge.” It has several elements I first heard years ago from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and her “Husband Encouragement Challenge” — but as I started researching it, I realized they were some of the elements of kindness, and that they go far beyond marriage.


4word: So what is the 30-Day Kindness Challenge?

Shaunti: First, pick one person for whom to do the challenge. Maybe it is a new boss you want to connect with. Or a co-worker who gets on your last nerve, but you’ve got to work with them.  Then do these three things for thirty days:

First, say nothing negative about that person, at all — either to them or about them to someone else. If your boss is being exasperating, you can’t complain about him to your girlfriends.  Just for thirty days! If the person is a subordinate and you have to correct a mistake, be encouraging and constructive with a positive tone, not a negative tone.

Second, find one positive thing you can sincerely praise about that person, then tell them and tell someone else. For example, tell your colleagues how kind your boss was when he learned you’d been fighting the flu.

Third, do a small act of kindness for that person. Maybe your boss is supposed to be showing the new guy around, but you offer to take the extra 15 minutes to do it, so your boss won’t have to. Or offer to bring back a sandwich since you know your boss won’t have time to get out.

Worry about being taken advantage of later. For the next thirty days, work on unconditional kindness.


4word: What will happen if we take the Challenge?

Shaunti: We found that 89% of relationships improved when people took the Kindness Challenge. As a researcher, I can’t stress enough how huge that number is! It is never a guarantee, and you’ll need to customize it for your individual situation, but chances are you will see a real improvement in your relationship.

Even more importantly, it will change you. Suddenly, you are focusing on whatever is lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise rather than whatever is driving you crazy. That exasperating stuff is still there, but you’re just not focusing on it as much. That is straight from Philippians 4:8, and it is God’s prescription for changing how you feel about that person.

As your feelings and actions change, that person will simply feel more cared for. They will feel like you genuinely appreciate and respect them. And that changes the temperature of the whole relationship. Dramatically, in some cases.


4word: How can our readers take the 30-Day Kindness Challenge?

Shaunti: Through our partnership with 4word, you’ll be launching a process so 4word women can sign up to do the Challenge. When you sign up, you will receive a very short daily reminder email with tips and findings from the research to help you.

And do it with someone else, or a small group! One of the main reasons people give up is getting discouraged. That changes a lot if you encourage each other.

If you’re a 4word Local Group leader, this is a great chance to create a group with a lot of engagement. We created materials for a six-session book club or small group, available free on our website.

And I suggest that people read The Kindness Challenge. Especially the sections that will help you identify the specific ways we are unkind every day and don’t realize it.


4word: What do you hope the Challenge accomplishes?

Shaunti:  I want us to see exactly how we aren’t kind – and how to get there.  Everyone wants to be kind.  If we’re Christians, we want to look like Jesus.  But we have a ton of blind spots.  For example, we have no idea the ways we are negative every day!  It turns out there are seven different types of negativity, and everyone struggles with different ones.  It is very revealing to go through the checklist and figure out exactly what we individually need to work on.

For example, I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty positive person. I didn’t think I had to worry much about that “don’t say anything negative” part of the Challenge.  But when I started cataloguing the types of negativity, I realized I was negative EVERY DAY. For example, one type of negativity is exasperation or irritation. And I get exasperated with my kids every day. I get exasperated with colleagues. It’s not necessarily what I’m saying when I get exasperated, it’s how I’m saying it. When I started trying to withhold negativity, that’s when I truly noticed how bad I had gotten.


4word: If our readers can’t participate in the Challenge through email, what are some other ways they can focus on kindness?

Shaunti: The most basic way is through the book. Those reminders are also listed in the back of The Kindness Challenge. If email is not really your thing and you’d rather go through the Challenge on your own, this is the easiest and most accessible option!


4word: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Shaunti: Yes, the character traits and actions of kindness are also those that make a great leader.  Kindness will help us be perceived as great leaders — especially as female leaders. Kindness takes strength, including having boundaries and making tough choices that are the right ones as a leader. Kindness really is the answer to being a great leader, just like it’s the answer to being a great wife, mom, or girlfriend.   As female leaders, we sometimes feel like we have to “stand up for ourselves” – but doing it in kindness will ensure that it is perceived well, rather than being perceived as “difficult.”

Kindness is the secret weapon of a great leader. Think back on some of your favorite and not-so-favorite bosses. The ones you hold in high regard are typically those who were kind to you. The bosses you didn’t like were probably a lot less considerate.

In one focus group I met a man who had been working at a company with a challenging environment. It was a very “transactional” workplace. It was all about efficiency, with no room for emotions. So he left and works for a different company, with a boss who has high expectations but is kind. The company is doing great as a result.  He told me that his previous job was all about efficiency, but with just two minutes of affirmation from the new boss, people will work their tails off for two weeks.  As he put it, “Now that is efficiency!”

So if you’re a boss, start utilizing kindness. You have incredible power to transform how those around you feel about themselves. Make the commitment to be more intentionally kind to your team and prepare yourself to see a ripple effect of positivity in your workplace.


Ready to be more kind in 2017? Click here to sign-up for the 4word 30-Day Kindness Challenge emails, launching on Monday, January 16. We know this Challenge will be an amazing start to the new year and help set all of us build up our relationships and bring more positivity into the world!


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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships.  After a Harvard graduate degree, Wall Street experience, and an unexpected shift into relationship research, she is now a popular speaker and best-selling author of books about men, women and relationships, including the groundbreaking For Women Only and The Male Factor.  Her newest research-based book, The Kindness Challenge demonstrates that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country.