Think Positively, Act Kindly

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Home > Articles > Think Positively, Act Kindly

 Think Positively, Act Kindly

William Wan | Today's Manager
December 1, 2016

Managing with kindness releases and regenerates the positivity that we need to succeed.


I was honoured to be interviewed for two books about leadership. 1 Though we come from diverse backgrounds, we all share a positive outlook on life and work: none of us approaches our professional goals with anything less than a “can do” attitude.

Kindness is my passion. It energises me because it is a positive energy. I have been positive for as far as I can remember and refuse to let negative people or circumstances in life dampen my spirit for too long.

There are at least three big road bumps that I had to overcome to get me to where I am today. In the early 70s, I started a law firm with two other partners. One of them split from us within the first year, insisting on his right to take over our newly renovated offices and keep the best of our staff. We had a choice: either resist and spend our energy fighting back, or give him our blessings and walk away. We chose the latter and decided not to waste good energy fighting him. We let go and restarted successfully.

Then in the early 90s, one of my daughters, a bright student, decided to drop out of school in the pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle in a far-off country. We let her go but loved her unconditionally and kept our door wide open. She came back seven years later, returned to school as a single mother, and earned her PhD.

The final road bump was getting fired from a senior leadership position at age 51. Refusing to roll over and expire, I returned to law practice after 25 years and made a success of it. The organisation that fired me had since then publicly apologised.

I overcame problems big and small with a good mea-sure of kindness wrapped with a good spread of forgiveness. A kindness mindset of letting passing things pass liberates me from the past so that I can fully live life in the present and positively look forward to the future.

Research by Barbara L Fredrickson, 2 a psychology professor from University of Michigan found that those who think positive thoughts have a greater capacity to take on board new information and build one’s skill sets. It changes a person’s perspective and ability to “connect the dots”, which in turn enables them to tackle any problems and obstacles that may arise.

I was able to reinvent myself many times over because I practised the positivity of kindness. Kindness gives me positive dispositional affect so that I have more energy and enthusiasm to be more productive. It gives me the resilience I need to recover from negative experiences. As Professor Fredrickson writes: “…positive emotions help speed recovery from negative emotions,” even if the positive thinking is self-generated.

A recent study has confirmed that positive thinking improves decision-making. In the seminal book Understanding the Entrepreneurial Mind, 3 the researchers emphasised the point that “negative thinking from entrepreneurs in a negative mood could lead to decisions which are more likely to be poor for their venture”. Needless to say, the antidote is positive thinking.

That is why managing with kindness releases and regenerates the positivity that we need to succeed.

1 Hartung R, Changing Lanes, Changing Lives (Candid Creation Pub. 2016) and Ronald Tay, Leadership Conversations (Marshall Cavenish, 2015).

2 Fredrickson BL, 17 August 2004, The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, The Royal Society,

3 Editors: Carsrud AL, and Brännback M, Understanding the Entrepreneurial Mind: Opening the Black Box (International Studies in Entrepreneurship Volume 24 2009).


​Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.


Copyright © 2016 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 4, 2016

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