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The Red Helicopter: Leading Change with Kindness

By Linda

Exploring the topic of kindness in the workplace.

Book covers from this featured list on a blue background
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
– Dalai Lama

When James Rhee was in kindergarten he was gifted a toy helicopter. It was recognition of his kindness in sharing his lunch with a friend who would sometimes come to school without any.

Decades on, Rhee took on the role of turning around a business that was in financial trouble.  Working alongside existing staff and using the lessons learned from his childhood, he developed a human-centered framework leading to a successful revitalisation of the business.

Rhee’s approach, as outlined in his TED talk, The value of kindness at work, showed that kindness and the bottom line of business are not incompatible.  Rhee has expanded his leadership experience into a recent publication Red helicopter : a parable for our times : lead change with kindness (plus a little math).

Research published last year found there was a “direct link between kindness and overall employee happiness and job satisfaction” while the article The Strategic Value Of Kindness lists “7 steps to reinforcing a culture of kindness, which leads directly to talent retention, innovation and revenue growth“.

Below we have curated some further resources on kindness in leadership and in the workplace and its place in changing organisational culture.

The Simple Power of Communicating with Kindness: How to be a more gracious leader.
Susman, S. (2023). Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 1–7.
Offers three things leaders and aspiring leaders can do to be a more gracious leader.

It’s cool to be kind: The value of empathy at work (Podcast)
“Empathy: We all aspire to it, but does it really make a performance difference in the workplace? Definitely, according to Jamil Zaki, a research psychologist at Stanford University and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World (Crown, June 2019). In this episode of McKinsey Talks Talent, Jamil … makes the case for investing in empathic behaviour—for reasons including higher productivity, a stronger workplace culture, and better organizational health—as well as to discuss how to go about cultivating kindness at work”.