How Small Acts of Kindness Show Courage—And Leadership

Moments to exercise valor come every day, often several times a day.

By definition, a leader is a trailblazer—someone who does things others don’t do, often because they are the right things to do. These don’t have to be heroic acts. Most likely, they are small, daily acts of kindness.

Think about it: When was the last time you showed courage? Moments to exercise valor come every day, often several times a day. They require you to notice first, and more importantly, to act. These occasions occur when someone is:

Being disrespected at work. There isn’t a time when disrespect is appropriate in the workplace. Yet it happens all the time. Someone disagrees with something that is said or done, and boom, words that defeat and degrade are hurled. You need to act courageously with some guidelines for civil discussions.

In need of coaching, even when they aren’t your employee. Is a manager confused or stuck? Is an employee in another area of your company having difficulty at work? Do you have a peer struggling with meeting expectations? These are times when you can courageously offer to coach them.

Not being heard when they deserve to be. In noisy, fast-paced organizations, many people are vying to get their words into the conversation. But if you look around you, you’ll find many who aren’t heard. Make a point to stop the noise and listen to them. You might be amazed at what you hear.

Underappreciated yet possessing great skills or potential. Why is it that some people have incredible potential but get overlooked or cast aside? It’s often because they are misfits—not the stereotypical business types. Take them under your wing and help them to be seen for who they are and what they can do.

Being gossiped about. Gossip hurts, and it can destroy a person’s career. Find out the truth and put those rumors to rest by standing up to those spreading hurtful information. It takes courage to show the other side of things, and you just might be the leader who is called to do so.

Under too much stress. Someone out there wants you to notice that they need some relief from stress. Spend some time listening to them (which can be a courageous act itself) and ask what you can do to help. You might be the leader who can calm them down and get them back on track.

Hurting for any number of reasons. This could be due to something that happened at work or something going on in their home life. Reach out to them and be present (because it takes courage to avoid fixing their problems) while they tell you what is going on. It may lift their spirits.

Leaders set the example. Exercising your courage in small acts of kindness every day is one way to do that: Stop, notice those around you, and act in their best interest.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a former corporate executive who has spent the past 16 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC.