What If You Are Only “32 Favors” Away From Effective Leadership?

It is my hope that reading this post will inspire you to begin your Monday as an opportunity to infuse your leadership relationships with the essence of empathy, compassion and kindness. We are all in this together.

As the editor, Laurie Wilhelm, of “Realizing Leadership” pondered: “Could a model for kindness be used to begin a shift in how we behave as leaders and the impact we have on others? Could this be a leadership growth opportunity to bring awareness to and initiate acts of leadership?”

Before going further, it’s necessary to state a few words of clarification about the terminology of the project and how it can be translated into leadership. While I’ll be using the word ‘favor’ throughout, these actions should be considered acts of leadership which help to develop ourselves into better leaders on an ongoing basis.


What defines effective leadership? Is it merely measured by how many “followers” one’s level of authority may influence? Or is it determined by extending empathy, compassion and kindness to those that one leads?

No matter who you are, where you come from and where you hope to go in your professional career, one shared goal exists. We all desire to be free to be as we are without preconceived judgments by our coworkers and management. Think about it…don’t we all thrive the most in an environment where our talents are seen and acknowledged?

“No pain, no gain” might work to motivate results at the gym, but in a corporate leadership environment, choosing to be kind, compassionate and empathic pays dividends beyond our comprehension. Let’s be clear before proceeding: kindness is not weakness. It does not imply that a manager should condone caustic behavior in the office.

Being kind means meeting someone where he or she is at in the present moment. Kindness is the effect of choosing to be compassionate and empathic towards the needs of another. An effective leader recognizes where his or her team struggles and shines with equal awareness.

It is tempting for a manager to focus on what is not being done and accomplished in the manner the management deems as best practices. However, I propose another way to motivate your team and build camaraderie. It begins with answering a single question: “Are you willing to make the time to be kind?”

Let’s assume “yes” is your response to the query I posed above. You are now ready to start charting a new path towards effective leadership. Your willingness and time are the only prerequisites to undertake the “32 Favors” project.

Why 32? 32 is one more than the maximum number of days in any month of the year. I challenge companies to make the commitment to share kindness one “favor” at a time with their staff and employees. Management teams may choose to begin the project anytime during the year: sharing kindness, compassion and empathy is not only reserved for the holidays.

The scope of the “32 Favors” project includes middle management teams agreeing to collaborate for 32 days to give favors anonymously or openly to their staff. Favors must be specific to leadership actions, confined to the workplace and must be equally distributed. The maximum expenditure for any single favor is $10.

Managers are encouraged to brainstorm together and create a master list of “favors” prior to beginning the project. Examples of favors could be to have one-on-one conversations with staff to better understand their challenges and goals or offering extra mentoring on a specific project or presentation.

It could also be as simple as showing meaningful gratitude for a job well done. The development and execution of the plan must include time scheduled for follow-through.

The staff will not be informed about the “32 Favors” project until the conclusion of the 32nd day. They will be given a survey on the day prior to the first day commencing the project. The questionnaire will measure how effectively their direct manager conveys compassion, empathy and kindness to their staff, from the perspective of the staff, on a scale of 0-10.

The staff will complete the survey again on the conclusion of the 32nd day, but before the “reveal” by middle management. It is hypothesized that the staff will rank the perceived demonstrations of compassion, empathy, and kindness by middle management as higher overall after the completion of the 32 days of favors.

Frequent reflections from the managers about the experience and the effect of participating in the favor process will be collected and received by one member of HR to be compiled into a comprehensive document. Management will share the contents among each other throughout the “32 Favors” project, facilitating greater collaboration and engagement within their group.

Upon completion of the 32 days of “favors,” management will share the document with their staff during the “reveal.” Written reflections or short videos are the preferred forms of content. The ideal platform for the content distribution would be interactive, social platforms via the current company Intranet.

Access to view the material should be controlled in a manner that only grants viewing and comments to project participants. Managers are welcome to keep additional, personal journals, but should keep in mind the information shared with HR will become public at the end of the project.

Once their staff receives access to the management’s daily reflections, the staff will be encouraged to draft their own reflections on being the favor recipients. The same member of HR will add these to the existing comprehensive document to be shared with management the following week.

Ideally, the collective result of undertaking the “32 Favors” project will be increased synergy and enhanced perceptions of compassion, empathy and kindness between management and their staff. Just as James Strock mentions in his bestseller, Serve To Lead, “Doing the right thing – by your customers, your employees, and other stakeholders – is becoming a competitive advantage as we move from a ‘transaction-based world’ to a ‘relationship-based world.”

The caliber of our interpersonal relationships in the workplace helps predict how successful a company will be in the new global economy. “32 Favors” is a catalyst for enhanced positive group dynamics. Companies might decide to repeat the project on an annual basis with new participants or to choose to focus on a single “favor” as their flagship kindness initiative. Employees may also opt to initiate the “32 Favors” concept among each other or to share the project with their friends and families.

Bottom line: We always have the time to be kind.

What is the “favor” (act of leadership) you’d most like to give as a manager or to receive as an employee?

The 32 Favors project can be used as a start of a conscious leadership development plan that builds trust and enhances our relationships. Because it is necessary that our actions are consistent over time, a one-time kind act can potentially send mixed messages and have a negative effect on trust when we go back to “business as usual.” This is why it’s important to give serious consideration about how to proceed with this project to create a sustainable leadership practice.

An earlier version of this post first appeared in “Realizing Leadership” and via LinkedIn



Hi! I'm Nanci Besser Reed. As a Mindset + Pilates Mentor, I help heart-centered women renew and reset their Mind AND Body via Pilates + Mindfulness. I offer private and group sessions via Zoom and other online platforms. I'm also a blogger and frequent contributor to aligned publications.

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