Nice Is Not Enough: How Mindy Stearns Builds a Culture of Kindness

Nice Is Not Enough: How Mindy Stearns Builds a Culture of Kindness

We could all use a little extra kindness, and leaders are better placed than most to spread it.

Mindy Stearns is so committed to doing her part that she took on the title of Chief Kindness Officer at mortgage lender Kind Lending.

You may already be familiar with Mindy’s impressively varied career, which started with doing animal impressions on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey show. The spot brought a lot of unexpected attention, and Mindy turned that moment into her dream career in radio and TV presenting. Most famously, she worked as Entertainment Tonight’s red carpet reporter.

Kind Lending was founded by Mindy’s husband Glenn Stearns, founder and former CEO of major mortgage lender Stearns Lending, which he stepped down from in 2012. As the name suggests, Kind Lending aims to take a more compassionate approach to loans than other mortgage companies. Mindy and Glenn extend that attitude to their employees, too.

“At the end of the day, people just want to feel like they matter—like their existence is important,” Mindy says. “It’s important for me to make sure our employees know how much they matter, because without them, this wouldn’t exist.”

In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Mindy talks to SUCCESS’s Madison Pieper about incorporating kindness into business, why being kind is a sign of strength, and why it sometimes requires toughness.

The difference between being nice and being kind.

Being nice and being kind sound like they should mean the same thing. However, there is a subtle difference.

Mindy defines being kind as making an active choice to put someone else first and make their life better in some way. In contrast, being nice is more superficial—it’s leaning on pleasantries, rather than pushing yourself to make real change.

For example, if you want to break up with someone but keep putting it off because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, you’re being nice, but you’re not being kind. The longer you wait, the more hurtful it will ultimately be for the other person.

Another thing kindness is not is weak. “People sometimes confuse being kind with being weak,” Mindy says. “[You hear,] ‘They’re too nice,’ or ‘They’re too kind, they’re weak,’ when in fact, being kind is extremely powerful because it’s a choice, it’s an action.”

Being nice is easy but short-lived. Being kind means going the extra mile to make a concrete difference.

How to be a kind business.

Treating the people who make your company run with kindness is good for business. It helps you attract higher-quality candidates and leads to less turnover. Even better than that, it’s the right thing to do.

Mindy and Glenn put “kind” into their company name because they wanted this attitude to be the foundation from the start. Here are a few ways they’ve implemented kindness at work:

  • Celebrate employees: As Chief Kindness Officer, Mindy is in charge of making new employees feel welcome. She calls each of them personally when they start. She also makes sure every person gets a special birthday celebration. 
  • Get to know people as individuals: As part of her welcome package, Mindy sends new hires a questionnaire, so she can get to know them better. She also keeps tabs on what’s going on in people’s lives, good and bad, so she and the company can be as supportive as possible.
  • Give people work-life balance: Don’t just find out more about people’s lives outside work—make it possible for them to have them! That means no after-hours calls or weekend work. Mindy and Glenn even give away extra paid time off every month.
  • Encourage charitable volunteering: Through its Bridge program, Kind Lending supports employees who volunteer for charity work by matching the hours they spend volunteering with a dollar amount. This not only makes employees feel like their values are being recognized, it spreads kindness beyond the company.
  • Make kindness someone’s job description: Running a business is a demanding job. If you’re better at the entrepreneurial side—the details and the ideas—find someone who is good at the human side. Where Glenn is the former, Mindy is the latter. Dividing the work based on their strengths helps them cover all bases.

Sometimes you have to be tough to be kind.

Building a company on kindness doesn’t mean employees get to call all the shots. Setting boundaries is an important part of being kind—as anyone who’s had to ration their kid’s Halloween candy knows!

Although Mindy is pleased that Kind Lending employees know they can come to her and Glenn with issues, she also wants them to work with their line managers. 

Establishing a clear chain of command ensures employees know that there is a procedure through which they can air ideas or grievances, without having to go straight to the executive suite.

Another difficult part of running a business based on kindness is recognizing when someone is negatively affecting company culture, and acting to protect everyone else.

“The kind thing to do for the other employees is to let those people go, so that those who are dedicated, who contribute to the culture, can feel like they were heard and that they matter,” Mindy says. 

Unlike being nice, being kind isn’t necessarily easy. But once you commit to it, you’ll realize that it’s a better way to be.

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