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In this first episode of Leader Lounge Community Podcast, my interview with Olivia McIvor reveals the benefits of using kindness in the workplace as a resilience tool, especially during challenging times.

If you enjoyed this episode today, be sure to hit the follow button on the player (• • •) and share it with your friends and colleagues. ~ Big Love, April

Let’s look at some ways you can effectively incorporate kindness at work.

00:00 – Introduction

01:20 – Kindness as a resilience tool  

02:45 – Advocate for authenticity

04:14 – 3 core outcomes from kinder workplaces

07:57 – Community Reimagined

11:01 – Empathy and walking in another’s shoes

15:13 – How to start your day as a leader

17:15 – Olivia shares an amazing story of personal resilience

22:50 – People have 3 basic needs

About Olivia McIvor

Olivia McIvor is an HR/OD specialist, facilitator, speaker, Social Change Advocate and the best-selling author of three books: The Business of Kindness, Five Generations-One Workplace and I See You. She teaches in the School of Business at BCIT and serves as the global Director for The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. Olivia is the co-founder of Kindness Speaks.


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April Qureshi (00:02):
Hello, and welcome to the leader lounge community where great leaders bridge the gap between people and performance. I’m your host April Qureshi On today’s episode of the leader lounge. I’m speaking with Olivia MACI co-founder of kindness speaks and author of the book, the business of kindness.

April Qureshi (00:29):
Welcome, Olivia,

Olivia McIvor (00:31):
Welcome back. So happy to be here with you today.

April Qureshi (00:35):
Yeah. Great. So today we’re talking about how business leaders can enrich their culture with kindness and compassion. And so Olivia, what can you tell us about using kindness as a resilience tool in organizations?

Olivia McIvor (00:52):
Hmm, good question. Well, you know, it’s, it’s interesting, there’s a, there’s a, an old quote that probably everybody has heard that when a mind is stretched to a new dimension, it can ever return to its original shape. And I think that that is kind of where we’re at right now in this world of COVID 19, that we can’t return to that original whatever our original normal was.

Olivia McIvor (01:20):
And so I think of kindness, a resilient tool that allows us to because of the, the benefits that come from kinder workplaces, it gives us a resilient tool to be able to step forward into this new to this new, whatever this new will be for us.

Olivia McIvor (01:40):
It gives us a tool that allows us to see each other through a different lens and different eyes, which is really imperative right now. And the, the benefits are just they’re so widespread. The research is so great on, on kindness and compassion that it there really, for me, there is no argument as to, as a, as a resilient tool.

April Qureshi (02:02):
And, and you mentioned seeing each other through a different lens. And so can you give us an example of that, how that might play out in, in an organization?

Olivia McIvor (02:13):
Mm, well, I think that we’ve become very superficial in organizations. I’ve been an advocate for, I would say the entire 32 years of my HR career an advocate of how do we put the human back into human resources? How do we, that it’s okay to wear our heart on our sleeves, that it’s okay to be authentic when we go to work and show up you know, it’s, it’s, I think it’s exhausting when people park part of who they are in the parking lot and only bring part of themselves to work.

Olivia McIvor (02:45):
And so as an advocate of this authenticity of that, I think is where, how we see each other through a different lens, because when you can humanize me, when you see me and I see you then we start to have a different way in how we work together. But this superficial, how are you, how are you doing stuff that we play at work, where we draw this line in the sand that I can’t bring my personal self to the workplace has really, I think done a huge just disfavor to the workplace and to ourselves and to our colleagues.

April Qureshi (03:25):
Yeah. And that’s interesting. So, you know, to connect you know, one on one as a human, you know, in, in the workplace you know, to be able to do that and still get our work done. So how do we, how do we merge that to, or how do we bring that kindness in that, that humanity, that authenticity and and still get our work done, you know, still meet the goals and, and, and do the things we need to do.

Olivia McIvor (03:52):
Well, I think we actually get our work done better when we allow that to happen. Because if you, you know, you can look at the research around optimistic teams, you can look at the you know, if you look at, I mean, I’m a social researcher, so I take huge amounts of data and I bring that down to, well, what does that mean at the end of the day for people?

Olivia McIvor (04:14):
And, and for me, if you look at kindness, there’s actually three core things that come out of kinder workplaces. One, it builds individual and group resilience, which resilience really at the end of the day, is our ability to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments quickly, and be able to get back to work. So imagine you’re working with a group of people who are you know, that kindness is embedded into how they work together.

Olivia McIvor (04:38):
When one person’s having a bad day, the other person can lift the other person up. So there’s this, there’s this give and take of how we take care of each other, how we how we’re careful with our feelings with each other we’re empathetic, we extend compassion.

Olivia McIvor (04:53):
The second piece is, is that teams are more optimistic that are in kinder environments and optimism. You know, if you look at optimism, when a problem from an optimistic perspective, as an example, so the team has this problem and they’re, they’re, they’re working towards whatever the solution might be. The, the brain engages very differently when it comes from an optimistic approach and optimism is optimism is embedded into kind behaviors. So when you go at something optimistically, your brain automatically releases the positive hormone, dopamine and dopamine allows the prefrontal cortex part of your brain to trust more, to be more collaborative, to be able to be more decisive and to be able to think clearly. So creating that in environment again around optimism is a really crucial part of us. That’s really the third one and the, or at the second.

Olivia McIvor (05:51):
And the third one is it creates a deeper sense of belonging. So it creates a sense of community with each other, where we look out for each other, that we, we grow as a community together. And I, I think that we’re seeing this so wonderfully done right now in, in the midst of what we’re all in the midst of that we’re creating community, that we’re, we’re looking beyond ourselves to others and, and out for others. It’s not just all about me. It’s about us in that.

April Qureshi (06:21):
Yeah. And this global pandemic has really brought to mind how connected we are as, as a global community. And so when you speak of community you know, it’s easy to come into community when we’re in an office building or we’re in a, a meeting space and, you know, we’re physically together, but now since this mm-hmm, , this whole thing has happened. We’re, we’re physically distanced. And so how, how can we, how can we create community over, over something like this, you know, right now we’re using zoom, for example. So how do we create community whether it’s one on one or in small teams or, or, or groups during this time when we’re, we’re away from each other physically?

Olivia McIvor (07:06):
Well, you know, I really believe that this has been a real gift to us. I know in many ways it doesn’t feel like it is because there is this self isolation that we have from each other and people are working in the midst of K on their homes and trying to homeschool. And, and and at the same time, you know, get on a, you know, Monday morning meeting at nine o’clock. And so there’s, there’s something kind of magical that’s happening around that, around this sense of community. And I do not, excuse me, I don’t believe for a second. We’re gonna go back to whatever normal was, which I don’t think was normal. I mean, we really have to even ask ourselves, do we even wanna go back to that? Do we wanna go back to a world of, incivility and discrimination and a lack of life-work, balance and stress?

Olivia McIvor (07:57):
I think we, you know, we need to rethink as we step into this, and this sense of community is going to be so much more profound because we have stepped into each other’s homes in a way that we have never done that. How many people have ever seen your, you know, the person you report to is home, how many people have ever seen the CEO’s home? You know, people have people have dis is on the sink. People are, are using their kitchen tables as their offices, or, or sneaking away into the, you know, a corner in the bedroom because it’s quiet and we’re seeing places and homes from a very different perspective. And when you get invited into that, that authenticity with people, something happens and you can never take those pictures away from us. And, and that’s where I think we are gonna move past this.

Olivia McIvor (08:47):
Hi, how are you to, are you okay? Tell me how your day’s actually going. You know, what’s outside your window. What are you seeing right now on your street? What does that look like for you? What can I do to help you to, to move through this as gracefully as possible? This is the first time in history in our history. There certainly have been, you know, many world wars where people have been brought together with a sense of community. But I think for the first time in a lot of generations this is a time where we all have one common bond and that common bond creates a level playing field for all of us, cuz it doesn’t matter how much money you earn. Doesn’t matter what position you’re in, in a company. And so that and bond is going to drop away a lot of these hierarchies that we have, it’s going to let us see human to human, because even if you don’t have children, you’re going to start to understand what it’s like for, for working parents and the pressures that they are under. I think that we’re just going to, to have a whole level of empathy that was never, we were never exposed to before and we never allowed ourself to be exposed to it. That’s a gift. That’s an absolute gift. I don’t think we can go back to unlearn that. Thank goodness.

April Qureshi (10:09):
Yeah. And I’ve been thinking about that myself. I’m thinking, okay, what’s gonna, what habits that have changed are we gonna stick and what are we gonna let fall away? And so the question, you know, that keeps coming up for me is like, what’s, what’s gonna stay the same and what’s gonna change. And so I think, you know, for myself and the work that I do with my clients is that there’s always this thread we draw on this thread that connects, that connects, you know, the person in the organization, whatever work they’re doing. And so what do you think that connection is? That’s going to maybe help us, help us stay connected, like you said to community and to the, to the human side of things. So what’s that thread that’s gonna draw us through into that.

Olivia McIvor (11:01):
Hmm. Well, I guess I’m gonna go back to that word empathy because we we have got a, we’ve got a common thread that we’ve really hidden from each other for many, many years in organizations. And that, that common thread I’m hoping is going to, to stay because once you’ve experienced empathy when I’ve walked in your shoes, I can’t unlock that. And so that common thread is going to allow us to actually experience emotions with each other and feelings. And goodness knows. We don’t like to talk about that stuff in organizations cuz people believe it doesn’t have any impact on the return on investment. If I go there and yet all of my research and certainly all of my work in human resources has told me the complete opposite of that, that we are, that it is this when we, you know, we’re really good at looking at the organization as a, you know, if you look at it as an entity, we’re very good at looking at it physically, you know, you know, or the chair in the right place and the windows, you know, and all of those things, we’re very good at looking at it fiscally, you know, on the bottom line.

Olivia McIvor (12:19):
And and so we’re, but we’re not good at looking at the emotional part of that, the feelings. And if you look at what engages people, if you look at what, and we use that word a lot in organizations, you know, let’s create an engages workforce for, I don’t think a lot of people really get what that actually means engagement actually to create an engaged workforce where people do what they love and love what they do. And they show up at a hundred percent, you people need to have two things. They need to understand intellectually what the goals and the roles and the strategies are of the organization. Well, we’re pretty good at that. And then we say, okay, now we want you to go out and act with discretionary service and give a hundred percent and we wonder why people don’t do it. Well, we wonder why the research is showing that only one out of seven people globally is actually engaged in the work that they do.

Olivia McIvor (13:07):
Hmm. Well it’s because there’s another component that’s missing. And that is the feeling part of that. The emotions. I can intellectualize the goals and roles and the strategies, but how do I get people to fill those goals and roles and strategies at an emotional level when you connect, how I think to how I feel, then I’m gonna act with discretionary service. And we in organizations don’t like to talk about, again, those feelings and emotional pieces. Well, we’ve broken through that barrier with this because people have, have gone into I mean, if you look at the, the work of world health organization for years has said that by the year 2020 malignant sadness or depression would be the second most debilitating disease in the world. And that came to fact in 2020, that was before COVID 19. Now what we’re seeing is this huge increase in in apathy, in depression, in, in sadness, based on the fact of self isolation and loneliness that people are experiencing, the uncertainty that people are experiencing. And so the we’re in deep in our emotions right now, and leaders would be very, it would, it would make sense for them right now to tap into those emotions with people, to to be with them in that emotional place. Cuz that’s going to then create a level of engagement, a thread to your words that that will be consistent. This has given us a, a chance to break open something that we’ve had. We’ve held hidden for some reason in organizations that emotional component.

April Qureshi (14:47):
Yeah. It’s interesting that emotional component, because as soon as you create community, you’re connecting with emotions. Right? And so so if an organization or a leader has never engaged with their, with their people in this way. So as part of the work that you do, what would be like one of the, one of the things, the first things that you would work on with a, with a leader or, or an organization?

Olivia McIvor (15:13):
Hmm, great question. Well, I think first you have to get outta your office and you have to go where the rubber hits the road and you need to, your day should never begin by just going into your office and walking by people a good lead leader needs to know what goes on at the back of the house. So there’s the front of the house, which is, you know, all the tasks and all the things that have to be completed by people. But then there’s the back of the house around, what are the stories that people are holding? What are they, everybody’s a book in their own, right? Everybody is, is authoring their own lives right now. Do you know what, what they’re stories are? Do you know, what’s going on with their families and, and their children and, and,,you know, if somebody has been ill or somebody’s, you know, had a wedding in their family, do you know all those stories?

Olivia McIvor (16:04):
So the first place is don’t walk by people ever without, leaving them a little better in a conversation with them than you, than you left them before. I always you know, if, if you have an opportunity to just hold conversations, small snippets of conversations and get to know people really well, I think that’s a, an amazing place to start.

Olivia McIvor (16:31):
You know, there’s a, a quote I use all the time, I’m in my work and it’s, before you speak or take any action, ask yourself three questions. Is it truthful? What I’m about to say, is it necessary that I say it at all and above all else? Can I say it with kindness? And so having just some simple tools that you can go out to change the dialogue, to hold positive conversations, optimistic conversations with people. I think that’s the, the first place that we, we begin. People versus tasks. How important is the task? How important is the person? Well, I’m gonna say that the person always outweighs the task is if you look after the person, they’ll look after the task. So people first.

April Qureshi (17:15):
Yeah. And you talked about writing your own story. And so we know that organizations are themselves an entity. And so, you know, a leader has an opportunity to write the story of how they want their culture to be. And so you experienced you, you have a personal story to share about resilience and and bouncing back. I’m wondering if you’d like to share that with us Olivia.

Olivia McIvor (17:44):
Oh, which, which story is that one?

April Qureshi (17:46):
How About the Parachute?

Olivia McIvor (17:48):
Oh my goodness. that’s resilience. Wow. well, okay. I, I wouldn’t, you know, I never would’ve thought you’d have asked me that question. well, this was a, a, this had happened many, many years ago and I was, I was in a place of transition and change. And so I decided that going school. I mean, I had this, I had this bucket list and it was a list of 10 things on there. One of them was to get my ears Pierce twice. I, you, you know, weird things you put on your, your bucket list. So one of them was skydiving. So off I go and I do the lessons. And this was in the days when you didn’t do tandem jumps so you, you, you jumped by your, and we were using old world war II round the old round shoots.

Olivia McIvor (18:37):
Wow. And so, you know, I go through all the lessons I get up there and there’s seven people on the plane and I’m asked to jump out first. And and there’s, there’s no, no line there’s, you’ve got a do it on your own. So you literally step out onto this little Sesna plane. You keep one hand in the, the, the the door of the plane, one foot in the plane, and then you step 80% of your body out onto the outside of the plane, onto the other wheel. And you grab onto the, you grab onto the wing and there’s 80 mile an hour winds coming at you, 3000 feet in the air.

Olivia McIvor (19:14):
And the jump master says jump. And I froze and I couldn’t jump. I’m like, I’m not jumping. And he says, you have to jump because you’re, you’re tipping the plane. , I’m like, I’m not jumping. And he says to me, this profound thing he says to me, he says, you can’t go back. You can’t come back in. Cuz there was no way to get me back in the plane. And it became this metaphor for my life because I was in change and transition. That’s why I decided to do something wild and crazy. And he was right. I couldn’t. So I let go and I did a, you know, perfect spread Eagle in the air 3000 feet, you’re dropping at a thousand feet a minute. It only takes three minutes to get to the bottom. And and the shoot and you start counting one, 1002, 1003, 1000 and the shoot, I get to 10 and it’s supposed to have opened. And I’m thinking, well, did I count too fast? Or, you know, so I start counting again, one, 1002, 1000, I get to 25,000 and you’re dropping fast and the shoot still hadn’t opened.

Olivia McIvor (20:23):
And so I, I grabbed onto the um the the emergency little shoot to pull it and cuz, and I remembered the jump master saying don’t panic and pull that shoot too fast. Cuz if it goes and the other, and he said, we haven’t had an accident in 25 years. So I, but this is just standard procedure. I need to tell you this. Thank goodness I heard it. And, and I asked myself, should I pull this? Should I pull the rip cord? And, and something inside of me said, don’t pull it. So I didn’t and I kept dropping. And then the next thing I know, I could hear the big shoot deploying and because I had picked up so much speed going down, I mean, I’ve, I got it. You know, it toggled my way down. I was the closest to the drop site of any of the other seven people. But I picked up so much speed going down that when I hit the ground and I didn’t even know this, I fractured my pelvis and a whole bunch of other parts of my body. And and so I, but you know, adrenaline’s a beautiful thing cuz you don’t feel anything.

Olivia McIvor (21:36):
I didn’t even, I didn’t know. I’d hurt myself. All I knew was I couldn’t get up cuz I had, my pelvis was fractured, so I couldn’t lift me up. And so a month in the S and you know, trying to walk again and all of those factors, if somebody had ever said to me, well you, would you ever do this again? I’d I would without question say yes, because I think it’s about moving through fear. It’s about having the courage to say yes to things even in the midst of that fear and to stick calm in the midst of, of that fear you have to keep moving forward and especially in leadership.

April Qureshi (22:16):
Yeah. Wow.

Olivia McIvor (22:17):
So thank you for asking me about that story.

April Qureshi (22:19):
what an amazing story. Like my hands are sweating right now. I felt like when you said you’re gripping and gripping and you said you can’t go back, I’m just like, it’s so true. Right? Like, yeah. So that Edge,

Olivia McIvor (22:30):
And we can’t go back right now as an organization.

Olivia McIvor (22:34):
Yeah. You said that in the beginning. Right? So it’s a perfect circle. Mm-Hmm for our conversation, if there’s one thing that you want people to walk away with, what, what would that be? I mean, we’ve talked about a lot already. Is there anything else that you wanna add?

Olivia McIvor (22:50):
Well, I think I would want to add that people have people have three basic needs and, and as a, as a kind human being, as, as society that needs to find our way back to our empathetic self, if we can keep, keep in mind, those three needs that all of our, that we have, that our colleagues have, and that is that everybody needs to know that what they do and who they are matters. They need to know that they are safe psychologically and physically, and they need to know that they belong and they belong to a immunity. And if we can move through that as we go back to whatever our workplaces are, whatever our lives are, that that we remember that people need to feel safe, that they matter, that they belong, that, that we all wanna feel valued, respected, and heard. And we can deliver that. We, we will be so much, we’ll be so much better off and we will be, we will be able to demonstrate that kindness that’s innate within us, cuz we are innately kind and compass. We just need to remember that in the moments that that are difficult.

April Qureshi (24:12):
That’s wonderful. And so if our listeners today wanted to find out more about you and your work, Olivia, where could they find you?

Olivia McIvor (24:21):
Probably the easiest is to go to the website

April Qureshi (24:31):
Okay. Yeah. And so that link is gonna be in in the comments along with this video. And as well, Olivia’s been featured in the servant leadership Institute podcast. And as you recall, she has three books out on Amazon and those links to her books and different ways that you can connect with Olivia will all be available right beside this video. So make sure that you click on those links and get in touch with Olivia. I know I’ve, I’ve known Olivia for several years now and it’s just a joy to be in her presence. And, I love the work that you do. It’s Olivia it’s it’s it’s, it’s so different and it’s so is what is needed right now. So thank you so much for being on the show today and for sharing your insights on how business leaders can enrich their culture with kindness and compassion. Thank you.

Olivia McIvor (25:28):
Thank You. Thank you.

April Qureshi (25:30):
You’re welcome.

Olivia McIvor (25:31):
Be well, bye.