Michael Lloyd White – A Heart Leader
Like many fantastical heroes, Secretary General of The World Kindness Movement, Michael Lloyd-White didn’t plan to become a Captain of Kindness. By choosing to not remain silent when he witnessed a systemic culture of bullying at his daughters’ Primary School he was propelled onto a path that revealed meanness is bigger than one school, one community, one nation. It’s a global pandemic, and according to Lloyd-White, change starts with you.
With racially-biased hate crime offenses and segregationist groups on the rise world-wide, it’s hard to remain upbeat and hopeful that the pendulum will eventually swing to the centre; where reason holds the middle-place in mankind. The good news, is that while hurtful narratives may attract headlines, a lot of good is being done by stealth; whereby simple acts of random kindness are being played out on a street corner, or in a boardroom, wherever they may be, there are those among us who are quietly choosing to walk in the lighter corridors of the human heart.
One such individual is Secretary General of the World Kindness Movement, Michael Lloyd-White, based in Sydney, Australia. Advocating a world without borders, where people can feel like they belong to one race – the human race, Lloyd-White, according to his late Grandmother Eve McNamarra, claimed he is a direct descendant from the romantic drover ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ that Banjo Paterson so wistfully opined over a century ago.
“I was born and raised in Australia as were my great grand-parents and theirs before yet I feel no more Australian than I feel Asian, Middle Eastern, Indigenous or European. I see a world without borders and if I belong to a tribe, it’s the global village. Segregation inhibits collaboration. When we focus on difference, rather than embracing commonalities, little is achieved,” says Lloyd-White.
As a social entrepreneur with an extensive background in strategic planning, Lloyd-White consulted on staffing strategies for the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Since 2011, he has acted as Chair of the peak national body, World Kindness Australia, and in 2012 at the London 7th General Assembly, became the first elected General Secretary to the prestigious peak global body, The World Kindness Movement (WKM).
With no political or religious affiliations, and a mandate to accept no donations or Government grants, WKM is a 28-nation strong, international movement established in 1997, which is gearing for registration in Geneva in 2017. World Kindness Australia funds the WKM secretariat role through a sustainable business model that enables WKM to walk the talk; to promote random acts of kindness without self-interest – so that the vision of a kinder world can be realised in our lifetime.
For Lloyd-White, inclusiveness, collaboration and kindness are key drivers that underpin all positive socio-economic and political change. Achieving endorsements from Australian Prime Ministers, Vice Regal, Australian Commissioner for Human Rights, State and Federal Ministers including the Premiers of NSW and Victoria, and local government bodies representing 1.7 million residents including the City of Sydney and Gold Coast, Lloyd-White is on a mission to reconnect people to the core premise that makes human-beings noble; selfless acts of kindness.
“In 2009, there was no active NFP status registered in Australia to represent WKM. I’m just a Dad that has conversations in kindness. What I love about WKM is that it’s not about us. It’s a platform for collaboration. A mother comes to us with an idea, and we will support and execute it. We had the first fashion parade for people living with disability at a major shopping centre. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen,” says Lloyd-White.
According to Lloyd-White, creating a sustainable model, without donations is critical to the integrity of their message. After researching the global campaigns that have made an impact, getting the traction of media and even capturing the attention and energy of those that oppose it, Lloyd-White settled on one model that’s had tremendous success. The campaign of fear by Osama Bin Laden.
“The fundamental principle of Osama Bin Laden’s business model, that really drove the success of his campaign, with limited funding and reach, was based on the premise of no central control. Instead, he created cells where people were motivated, inspired and geared to perform acts of terror. So the model works and we have subverted it. While we have schools and businesses as members, there are people involved in our kindness campaign that we don’t hear about until after an act of kindness is shared. There are Goodwill Ambassadors, going out and meeting people, doing fantastic things all over the planet and that’s the way WKM will continue to grow; through collaboration, engagement and the inspiration to perform acts of kindness,” says Lloyd-White.
For Lloyd-White, the fundamental premise of benevolence, rarely flourishes in a structured environment and argues that the NFP sector model, as it currently stands, is a contradiction of the original intention – to help others in an environment of collaboration, not competition.
“The NFP sector model is about competition. It’s not a sector. It’s an industry. In Australia, it turned over AUD107 billion in 2015. To put that in perspective, our public service and Defence force budgets combined are smaller. So while NFPs compete for donations and Government grants, when they are competing on tenders to outsource work and growing at a phenomenal rate, they must go and source management from the Corporate sector – who then bring a private sector mentality with them. So we now have an industry, in its current state of evolution, that manages by the bottom line, rather than the heart. We now have an industry, that was originally all about heart, outsource its goodwill to marketing companies, who themselves are compromised when they have cultures of bullying because they have incredibly unrealistic KPI targets. If you walk down the street today, you’ll be flirted with a young backpacker with a clipboard, asking you for a swipe of your credit card. But if you ask them two questions, you’ll get the same answers; ‘Do you work directly for the charity? No. Do you donate to it yourself? No’. The result? We now have a public that is fatigued. When we have all this divisiveness because NFPs are all competing for time and exposure between ministers and media, competing for Facebook likes…I got a message on LinkedIn from an executive from a very large NFP who confided in me that she was scolded for sharing a post from another NFP. Everything reverts back to self-interest, not kindness,” says Lloyd-White.
Lloyd-White’s position on the current NFP environment, forces us to examine what kindness means, and what it looks like in action. For him, the word ‘kindness’ itself, has enormous power, and part of the work that WKM does is to shift perceptions – mostly pejorative about use of the word in corporate life, as well as the perceived gender-bias attached to the word.
“In the school curriculum, we have wellbeing and mindfulness, but if the word can’t resonate with a 4 to 94-year-old, it’s missing the point. The word ‘kindness’ is ancient. It resonates deeply with humans, so using this word alone to shift the tone of conversation is a powerful tool,” says Lloyd-White. “Kindness is a verb. It’s an action with zero self-interest. Where we live in a world where self-interest is king, it’s not surprising that kindness has been marketed as a weakness, or associated with only the feminine. In France, to call someone ‘kind’ is a sarcastic insult. What about the phrase ‘cruel to be kind’? Its sinister, cutthroat, bloodthirsty. It’s a license to be mean. Words are powerful. A word can lead to capital punishment. A word can make you feel like you want to take your own life. When someone says, ‘I have nothing nice to say so I won’t say anything’, my response is, ‘dig deeper, how hard can it be?’…Look at how corrupt language has become with legalese. I’m surrounded by lawyers and HR people, who want to do good, but they smother the word with jargon. If you want to have an impact in the boardroom, just say the word ‘kindness’. Keep it simple and ask yourselves ‘is this the best we can be?’ My 13-year old daughter once asked, ‘what if someone says yes’? I say, Really? You have peaked as a human-being at 13?” says Secretary General of WKM, Michael Lloyd-White.
If we examine the attributes of kindness, Lloyd-White says all acts of kindness are embodied by courage, truth, lack of self-interest and compassion. However, given the legal and social structures our societies have imposed on people, while it has its place, it has resulted in ‘intense disengagement’ by the public. Our professions advise doctors, lawyers, psychologists, educators, public servants to detach themselves in the name of professionalism, and compliance.
According to Lloyd-White, these artificial social structures are smothering the very emotions that represent the best of humanity – and the consequences are grave.
“Kindness is the path of most resistance because it demands us to be vulnerable, and to move beyond ourselves…an example is bystander behaviour. When something goes wrong, we say, it’s the school’s fault, or the church or Government, or the parent, but the fact is, it’s the same village that raises the child. If you pick an occupation that requires courage like a firefighter or a soldier, or police, emergency services…Here we have people who know, at some point in their life, their career will demand of them to put themselves in harm’s way for another, but they do it anyway. Yet, for generations, those same people in these careers, sought the safety of silence when people in their own occupation were being abused, raped or bullied. It gets back to the overwhelming sense of belonging which can make us do fantastic things and also allow horrible things to happen. It infuriates me when people say, ‘well, we had to protect the brand’. How did that work out for the Catholic Church? If you focus on protecting the people, whether they be your employees or your patrons, your brand will be bulletproof. Being kind takes courage, but it’s the only choice that we can make if are to absolve ourselves of blame,” says Lloyd-White.
Given the decentralised philosophy of the WKM kindness campaign to mobilise change for a kinder world, Lloyd-White’s own contribution requires him to regularly be a guest speaker and strategic advisor for brands around the world seeking a kinder, more sustainable way of business. As part of WKM’s ‘conversations in kindness’, they have developed several initiatives and tools that helps leaders to engage their teams in collaborating with heart, rather than competition. Some successful engagement tools are WKM’s Kindness Performance Indicators (KPIs) its draft Kindness Clause, the WKM Kindness Cards and its proliferation of Goodwill Ambassadors around the world.
“Whenever there is a major global Government summit, for the first half they finger point and blame. While ever we blame, we build walls. Kindness is not about yesterday. It’s about today and tomorrow. I’ve gone into toxic meetings and bad environments, and as soon as the word kindness is on the screen, you feel the shift in the room…When opposing sides keep slapping each other in the face, tensions escalate and neither side wins. The fact is, if we are going to inspire, engage and influence – It’s not through burning flags, it’s finding common ground – and the common ground is usually rooted in the attributes that make us human. If we think about the history of Insurance companies, they started as a shipping co-operative. Competitive merchants in London were being pirated, raided, and they were going down the gurgler so they created a kitty to bail each other out in the event of raids, because it was in their collective interest to do so. But over time, as companies became incorporated, this changed…Now, we have an Insurance Clerk at their monitor, reading a claim from someone who lost their home in a flood, where the eldest son refused to go into the helicopter, because he wanted his younger brother to go first, and then he perishes in the flood. This family’s claim comes up on the screen and its denied because they hadn’t paid last month’s premium. If we apply the Kindness Clause, it gives us a U-Turn. Because the moment you put pen to paper, you escalate, which makes it harder to come back from so the Kindness Clause is a self-audit i.e. Don’t just deny that family their claim but consider whether you sought the kinder option in this scenario? Did you reach out to the claimant to join you for a conversation and if so, was it for the best intent? When we created the Kindness Clause in Malaysia, the idea was to have it as a contract insertion. Before we even moved to have it passed at the next General Assembly it has already been adopted in part by a major law firm in NZ for a Shareholders Agreement,” says Lloyd-White.
The WKM KPIs acts as a counter-lever to organisations that are crippled through the burden of compliance. WKM sets simple parameters for organisations to adopt a bespoke approach to develop programs that support a Corporate Culture of Kindness. According to Lloyd-White, leadership is a revolving door, therefore real sustained change, requires collaboration and engagement with positive reinforcement regardless of who sits at the head of the table. WKM proposes the following top ten actions for corporates to consider:
1.Place Kindness on The Agenda
2.Host a regular panel where conversations in kindness can take place
3.Develop a Kindness Policy and Workshop
4.Create a pledge to always seek the kinder option
5.Appoint Goodwill Ambassadors to co-ordinate, acknowledge and reward acts of kindness
6.Collaborate in kindness through seeking ideas from all stakeholders, external and internal
7.Undertake a quarterly Kindness Index
8.Aim for your organisation to become an “Agent for Positive Change” through having a purpose greater than its bottom line
9.Encourage the Board to sign a Declaration of Support in an official Signing Ceremony inviting all key stake-holders to witness; and
10.Insert a Kindness Clause into your agreements or constitution.
For the skeptics and cynics on the effectiveness of managing from the heart, Lloyd-White says that he is often asked about the level of appropriate kindness. While the whole premise of WKMs philosophy is to encourage self-governance with a supportive platform of collaboration, Lloyd-White has a good answer for those who want boundaries –
“If someone posits, ‘what is the appropriate level of kindness, we don’t want to overdo it’, my answer is simple. It should be more than the appropriate level of meanness. That normally resets the conversation,” laughs Lloyd-White.
“A kindness index was carried out in Singapore recently. I was given the questionnaire and the net outcome was this company had dropped down three points. They thought something was wrong with the survey. On page 27, it asked, ‘are you kind?’ and 99 percent said yes! But on page 28, it asked, ‘has anyone been kind to you?’ And 99 percent of respondents said no. So the survey wasn’t broken. The issue is that kindness is missing in action. Acknowledging kindness is as important as performing kindness. We’re about planting seeds. Our Kindness Cards is one way to acknowledge someone. These cards travel all around the world, collecting deeds of kindness, and we register and track these acts of kindness on our site. Being an agent for change, can be something simple, like walking into the lion’s den of hate sites, and pose a question about kindness, to make people reflect…We all intrinsically know that kindness is not about wanting to feel good. It’s our duty towards each other to be kind. To do what is right, not what is popular – to lead with the heart,” says Lloyd-White.
For WKM, the goal is to have the United Nations sign its Declaration of Support for the World Kindness Movement. Again, Lloyd-White is poised for the skeptics who may argue that politicians will only sign anything that makes them look good. For him, all declarations are strategic, and live long after the ink has dried.
“I remind cynics that some politicians signed a Declaration of a young nation not long ago, that said all men are created equal. Now the people that signed that Declaration, do you think they all believed it? Possibly not. Many in the party were even against it. It took them to a civil war where things got worse before it got better. But eventually it found its way into the laws of the land and into the hearts and minds of the majority of the nation. But most importantly that same Declaration, resonated, and travelled and found its way to a farm in South Africa to a young boy called Nelson Mandela who took it to heart. And it also travelled to the son of a minister in Chicago, Martin Luther King and it ignited a spark in millions. And maybe, just maybe this Declaration, found its way into a school room in Pakistan where it made a young girl called Malala Yousafzai be courageous. You just don’t know who is going to be the next agent for positive change,” says Lloyd-White. “The fact is, a Declaration is a license to practice kindness. And the reason we say practice is because we never get it right. But I believe, with all my heart, that the harder something becomes, the closer you are to success”.
Hearing Lloyd-White speak, it’s hard not to feel weepy. We are moved by the optimism and longing for his message to resonate, and be successful. We are certain that Lloyd-White’s blood has kept the spirit of Banjo Paterson’s Clancy of the Overflow alive and well 130 years on, where we are inspired to move past ‘the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal // [where] the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him // In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars, // And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, // And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.