November 22, 2022

BEARD | The Power of Kindness

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I, like many Cornellians, have been working a job this semester. The money can only be described as not-excellent, the work is menial and at times I can feel purposeless. 

I was thinking about this. I work and work and work, accomplish milestones and finish projects for this job — yet, so much of the time it leaves me feeling listless. How come? Looking back on it, I’ve gotten a lot done, I’ve implemented changes, and arguably some of them have been successes, but not once have I considered that progress until now. 

That’s the problem, all I think about is doing. Clocking in and clocking out. Constantly improving, chasing mission completion over all else. Thinking about it, I see it in my co-workers as well. No smiles when they walk in the door, no purpose in their work. Just like me, they hustle and bustle, doing and doing, toiling away in vain.

This isn’t to say that student jobs are meant to be the apex of workplace happiness, but there’s certainly something lacking in this situation. That something is leadership. 

In my job and so many others, our bosses demand results, and at the end of the day that’s their only connection to their employees and their jobs. There’s absolutely zero prioritization of either development or building self-confidence. While I can only speak for my workplace, it is a telling cross-section of work culture nonetheless. Not once in my job have I heard my superiors utter the phrase “good-job” with any degree of genuineness. In my job, authoritative kindness is hard to come by. Instead, I’ve heard criticisms ranging from “this could be better” to “try-again” amongst many others. 

Admittedly, I was thinking about this, and it could be that I’m just not doing a good job. That would be understandable. In that case, I’d agree with my bosses — don’t give out unearned praise. But, I asked around and found I was not in isolation. Of the over 10 upperclassmen student employees I work with for 10 to15 hours a week, none of them had received kudos for their work.

I’d like to add a disclaimer here. Typically, I am not someone who needs to be heaped with praise or told “good job” frequently. Normally, like my bosses, I toil for the sake of results and results alone. But, in this situation where I was wielding my work ethic in a leadership scenario, it was clear to see the effect that a lacking work-place culture can have on its members. 

Rather than niceties or a metaphorical pat-on-the-back when we surpassed the standard, exceeding the expectations came off as the expectation. Admittedly, I’d generally think that’s good, but in a workplace, it just continuously shifted the goal post for us as followers. Those who lacked confidence, never found it, as our bosses failed to sow the seeds of encouragement. Those who had confidence to begin with had trouble finding it with the bar seemingly set adjacent to perfection. We were like sisyphus rolling our proverbial rocks up that hill from nine to five, only to find it roll back down the next day, restarting the cycle anew. 

So if anything, this is a cautionary tale. It is an open letter of sorts for all those who fancy themselves leaders, mission commanders, project managers, middle managers and more. You are all leaders on the path to objective completion, but don’t forget you’re responsible for leading other people along with you. Keep your standards high, but take a second to recognize achievement beyond them. It goes not just for your subordinates either, have some compassion for yourselves. Recognize the accomplishments of those around you and take some time to pat yourself on the back when you’ve reached the apex of your own proverbial hills. There is a power in kind words, don’t underestimate it. 

Brenner Beard ‘24 is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected] Agree to Disagree runs every other Tuesday this semester.