- Daniel Lubetzky is founder and executive chairman of Kind snacks and a “Shark Tank” guest judge.
- He recommended leaders incorporate kindness into their cultures as it helped him find success.
- To build an empathetic culture, define and implement your “how” and encourage honest feedback.
- This article is part of a series called “Secrets of Success,” which examines specific leadership tips from prominent business leaders.
Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of snack company Kind, guest judge on “Shark Tank,” and founder of multiple foundations and nonprofits, grew up with empathy in his blood.
The child of a Holocaust survivor and Jewish immigrant to Mexico, his parents taught him the importance of deeply caring about other people and finding common ground in order to avoid hatred and division.
While these types of childhood lessons don’t always translate into great business advice, Lubetzky has always been adamant about instilling empathy into the companies he builds.
His team culture emphasizes kindness over competition, and he believes this approach actually helps his companies outperform – and based on Kind’s recent $5 billion acquisition, this softer approach hasn’t stopped them from succeeding.
Here are a few of the ways Lubetzky recommends other leaders start to bring more kindness into their cultures – without needing to completely overhaul their approach or lose their competitive edge.
Focus on the ‘how’ as much as the ‘what’
Setting aggressive goals is a part of any competitive business strategy.
But Lubetzky thinks too many business leaders overlook an important aspect of this kind of planning – how you want to go about achieving those goals. “Where you’re heading is very important, but how you get there, how you’re approaching every day, is as important as anything,” Lubetzky told Insider.
In an end-of-year letter to employees, Lubetzky shared some examples of what this looks like day-to-day on his team: “The way we work – the way we welcome hearty debate and disagreement, because we know it makes our ideas better and stronger; the way we respectfully listen to one another, try to see one another’s points of view, and assume positive intent; the way we practice integrity across all of our decisions and refuse to cut corners or accept false compromises; the way we push ourselves to achieve excellence but not at the expense of practicing kindness in every small action; the way we take initiative and responsibility for what we do – is what fills me with pride.”
Defining and implementing the “how” of your business can take many approaches, but Lubetzky swears by a simple set of core values that can guide team behaviors and decision-making. Perhaps more importantly, this can also help ensure you’re hiring the right people to keep this empathetic culture strong.
For instance, two of Kind’s values are “kind yet hungry,” which helps them look for teammates who will balance a drive to achieve with integrity and respect.
They can also guide what behaviors you choose to incentivize and celebrate. “We have an annual tradition called ‘Kindos of the Year,’ when we recognize those team members who have gone above and beyond to live out the kind values and champion them within the organization,” Lubetzky said. “Kindos is just as high an honor, if not more so, than meeting an important sales goal or other business objective.”
Be kind, not just nice, and encourage honest feedback
Lubetzky said there’s an important distinction to keep in mind when building a more empathetic team culture: that true kindness is different than just being nice, and while one will create a more competitive team, the other may weaken it.
“You can be nice and not criticize and be polite,” he said. “I’ve seen it so many times with companies I admire where nobody will tell the CEO or founder something they need to hear because they don’t want to be the one to disagree. That’s the moment when mediocrity is going to start seeping into the consciousness of that company.”
Instead of just being passively nice, you should be aiming for an active empathy, where your teammates have plenty of opportunity to get to know each other and connect – which ultimately leads to an organization where people are comfortable giving hard but important feedback.
“Kindness requires honest feedback and honest feedback requires strength, and that strength is much better achieved when you have a culture where people trust each other and know that they mean well toward one another,” Lubetzky said.
This deep trust built off connection and empathy is why he and former Kind president John Leahy worked so well together, despite rarely seeing eye to eye. “Because we knew we shared a goal to strengthen Kind, we never tried to one-up one another or put the other person down,” he said. “We were able to have constructive back-and-forths knowing there never was a different agenda or underlying issue masked as something else.”
Start small and build empathy into the everyday
Lubetzky said an intent to improve is the best way to start integrating empathy into your workplace. “If you’re asking how to create a more empathetic workplace, you’re already way ahead of everybody else,” he said.
Then, think of small ways you can model the behaviors you want to see, such as taking a moment to ask a colleague how they’re doing, giving a more junior person the floor, or celebrating a small win a teammate had. “We all are a product of all those little interactions with every person, and that’s what counts the most,” he said.
Also look for ways to build more opportunities for empathetic connection. This doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary: Lubetzky suggests things like team events that give everyone a chance to meet or slightly less efficient meetings that allow time for casual connection. “All of our leadership team is encouraged to do 15-minute connects every month or so where they check in with everyone on the team on a personal level,” Lubetzky said.
Finally, as you’re going through this process, be empathetic and forgiving with yourself, understanding that it’s not easy to build this kind of culture and you’re sure to make mistakes along the way. “I don’t have all the answers and I don’t always behave the way I’d like to,” Lubetzky said. “But it’s the commitment to try to improve that really matters.”