The Compassionate Leader

Over the past couple of years, our world has faced a lot of hardship. Our collective spirit has been put to the test. Now more than ever, leaders need to step up and be more compassionate in order to enhance a sense of collaboration, trust and loyalty within their business.

Compassion is defined as a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. None of us have escaped the incredible amount of pressure of the last few years, from working from home, balancing home schooling and work commitments, adjusting to a more solitary work life with little or no social interaction and all the other personal and collective pressures of living through a pandemic.

While some people have thrived, many have not. While some have adjusted well, others have struggled. While some have found it easy, others have found it incredibly challenging. Leaders who have their ears to the ground would have had to manage through these challenges and paid more attention to mental health and the general wellbeing of their employees than ever before. 

During times of hardship and uncertainty, it’s not easy for leaders have to strike a healthy and appropriate balance between being a compassionate human being and an effective leader, capable of making tough decisions for the greater good of their business. Infact it’s during these hard times that “good” leaders need to do even more challenging things and make hard decisions; like provide constructive and negative feedback, make difficult choices that disappoint people, restructure their teams and make redundancies.  

Striking the right balance between compassion and effectiveness 

As tricky as it seems, it is possible to be a caring, compassionate leader and an effective one.  You don’t need to choose between the two, it’s more about finding the right balance to be both.

This is the subject matter of the book “Compassionate Leadership” written by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter. Using data from thousands of leaders, employees, and companies in nearly a hundred countries, the authors find that when leaders bring the right balance of compassion and wisdom to the job, they foster much higher levels of employee engagement, performance, loyalty, and well-being in their people.

“Most people think we have to make a binary choice between being a good human being and being a tough, effective leader. But this is a false dichotomy. Being human and doing what needs to be done are not mutually exclusive. In truth, doing hard things and making difficult decisions is often the most compassionate thing to do”. 

Here are a few tips to better develop compassion and wisdom as components of your leadership style. If your wisdom is strong but you still need to develop more compassion, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Foster more self-compassion
    You can’t truly care for others if you don’t care for yourself first. How are you going to be able to help others if you are stressed out, over-worked and not feeling good about yourself. For many leaders, self-compassion starts with letting go of unhealthy self-criticism. Instead focus on the small wins and achievements you make it a day and be more willing to make mistakes, learn from them and move on in a positive way. 
  2. Practice compassion meditation; 
    You can practice compassion meditation for ten minutes a day and you will be well on your way to becoming a more compassionate human being. In fact, compassion is a trainable skill so start cultivating it today. To balance it out, mindfulness mediation increases your wisdom and ability to manage situations in a compassionate way whilst still getting the job done. Practice both styles of mediation to be a more grounded leader. 
  3. Practice active listening: 
    Active listening goes hand in hand with the above two points, in fact without it you can’t really be practicing empathy. Active listening, when done properly, results in people feeling more heard and understood. Here are some ways to be more ‘active’ in your listening;

    • Use your own body language (like nodding/ smiling) to show you are listening and picking up what they are laying down
    • Avoid thinking of what you are going to say when they finish talking
    • Avoid distractions like your phone, other conversations going on around you. Stay 100% focused on the person you are listening to
    • Use small verbal cues to let them know you are hearing what they are saying and to encourage them to continue communicating like “OK”, “uh huh”
    • Wait until they have finished talking and then summarise what they have just said to you to ensure you have understood them properly.
  4. Have the right intention: Before meetings and check-ins, ensure you have given yourself a minute to set the intention of the meeting. How can you be of benefit to this person, from their perspective? Maybe ask them; this is your catch up, what would you like to talk about? How can I make your life better? 

Now more than ever, compassion is a crucial skill that leaders need to harness to make for motivated and engaged employees who are not only happy and feel valued, but are committed to the work they do. Leading others is hard, but it is possible to be compassionate and make tough decisions to be an effective leader at the same time.

If you would like to organise a tailored leadership workshop with me this year get in touch today. I’d love to help!

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