Mark Strom: “Kill” them with kindness

Mark Strom
Mark Strom

Photo: https://i.ytimg.com

Expert in leadership Mark Strom visited Armenia recently by the invitation of IDeA Foundation co-founders Ruben Vardanyan and Veronika Zonabend.

Mediamax had a chance to talk with Mark Strom and discuss some of ideas presented in his “Lead with Wisdom” (2014) book.

AI amplified by human intelligence

The world is increasingly structured by artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, big data and data analytics.

Photo: Frank Andree

The more the world is shaped by AI, the more we need the AI that is human intelligence amplified and that requires leaders who have imagination and an expansive view of life. Leaders, who are able to help people in a world that is increasingly structured around technology.

Cherish the people you lead

It’s lovely old-fashioned words, but I like old-fashioned words like that. It was my dad who first talked to me that way about what it means to “cherish people”. What he showed me, what I still hold true to is that it’s actually small things. It’s easy to talk about how we value people, the hard part is to do those small things that show that we really do mean it, such as thanking the person who is very low in hierarchy.

Photo: Frank Andree

I might be very high and the other person is very low, but I refuse to see them that way. I will see them as a person of equal dignity and value, and therefore, respond to them in that way, which means the simple gestures of thanks and appreciation. I’m convinced that the most powerful thing to bring change in the world is our acts of kindness.

Traditions differ but dignity is universal

There are always things that are received in one culture very positively, and in another culture they’re not. We’ve got to have sensitivity to that. But as I’ve traveled the world and spoke and worked alongside with many people from quite different cultural backgrounds, there is this common thing that is about recognizing the intrinsic worth and dignity of another person irrespective of what power or position they have. How it’s expressed will vary, but I think to hold that fundamental belief and act on it is universal.

Lead and leadership

I like to talk about the word “lead” more often than “leadership”. If you watch children in a playground at school, they lead and they follow. They change between the two roles, they lead sometimes and they follow other times.

Photo: Frank Andree

The person who leads wisely, no matter what is his position, it is still wise to know when to follow and not just to lead. When it is wise to recognize that somebody else is seeing something better than I’m seeing it, I follow them.

Don’t say anything about people unless you can say it to their face

To go to the bigger picture first, the reason why all my work’s been built around wisdom rather than technique, is that part of it is about helping people recognize the consequences of what they do. On one hand, when someone has a conversation and they go to Facebook, start saying things there, one part is that it just lacks integrity and it’s cowardly to do that.

The other dimension of it is that you’ve just started something that’s going to have enormous consequences, and you don’t realize what you’ve done, that this will escalate, and something that was quite small turns into something huge. If you speak a word, you can’t get it back again.

Facebook means that I say things which I might not have done if I stopped and thought about it. We’ve seen politicians do this at the moment on the world stage. They just shoot off a tweet about something, but if they’ve stopped and said, “What are the consequences of what I’m about to do?” and if they’ve sat with their advisors and said, “Help me think this though,” they would all say, “Don’t do this.”

Photo: Frank Andree

The test is: “Would I actually say this to a person if we were face to face?”. If not, then don’t say it. Just don’t say it.

“Kill them with kindness”
My dad used to say to me, “Big doors swing on little hinges.” If you’re trying to accomplish something big in the world, he would say, “There’ll be a couple of people of good heart, there’ll be a couple of acts of kindness.” I worked in advising in some huge organizations and I’ve seen people trying to make really bold transformation, and I’ve never seen anything as powerful as an act of kindness to change people.

When we talk about people, we want them to have a different mindset, to think differently. I’ve never seen anybody produce that change without an act of kindness. It actually changes people.

When I think of the moments in my life when I changed most, some of those were really tough conversations, hard situations, but there’s always been an element of kindness around them. A person who spoke hard words to me but did it in a way that was caring. There was a person who could just tell me I was an idiot, but they humbled themselves to sit with me and listen to me.

There have been times when I was just young and stupid and did stupid things. I remember I failed my first exam in philosophy in my first graduate studies because I spent all my time writing on the exam telling the professor what a stupid exam it was. It was a foolish thing to do and he called me to his study to explain myself. Rather than tearing into me, which he could have done, he said, “Mark, why did you come here?” He invited me to tell my story and he offered to be my mentor, and he was for three years. That act of kindness is one of the things that changed me.

Ara Tadevosyan talked to Mark Strom


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