"If I commit to leading with compassion, will I be perceived as a weak leader?”
“Does this mean that I cannot hold people accountable?"
“Is this leadership stance a reflection of being decision averse?”
“Can I correct or terminate an ineffective employee with empathy and compassion?"
These are a few questions that come up when trying to encourage people to lead with empathy and compassion. Leading with empathy and compassion is not a new idea. Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha all taught this idea prior to any contemporary leaders who are attempting to coin the concept as their own. Applying these centuries-old concept is important to leadership. In practice the idea is simple - understand the situations and circumstances of people you are leading. Then ground your leadership approach in this knowledge because you are making critical decisions every day and those decisions impact your people directly.
Leading from a place of empathy and compassion will not require a 360 degree change in leadership style, or a complete dismantling of your leadership philosophy. It will require a simple pivot towards recognizing that people are worth more to organizations than how smart you think they are and what contribution you think they can make to the bottom line.
Start with Two Simple Things
To begin to have a more empathetic and compassionate approach, you should engage in two daily non-negotiable practices:
1. Introduce yourself to at least one person in the office or organization whose name you do not know, or with whom you do not work directly.
2. Compliment at least one colleague each day; it may be the only positive sentiment that they hear that day. Don't miss the opportunity to be the server of genuine compliments.
People think a compassionate and empathetic approach is time-consuming. However, there is an incredible value-add when leaders are familiar with every person they encounter. Take a moment to think of what makes you feel valued as a person, not as a professional. Similarly, think of what will make your direct reports feel valued as individuals. Thinking of your staff members or teammates as mere subjects who are a part of your evidence for the next data meeting is not likely going to result in the outcomes you desire.
Do as I say and not as I do! Clearly, we may not say this in our role as leaders because we know better. However our actions, in many instances, convey and perpetuate this universal adage. As leaders we expect our people to connect with customers and clients in an empathetic way and yet, we don’t always do the same. If your people know that you care, they will perform for you. It is astonishing to watch leaders who pretend to exhibit empathetic leadership but are committed to ridiculing, criticizing, and emasculating their peers and colleagues. They are known to be critical of individuals who are immensely qualified, are dedicated, loyal, and committed yet might not show up or deliver results as the leader would like. Yet these are the same critical leaders are the ones who will demand an empathetic approach for themselves when and if they fall short. The truth is, this in congruence is the antithesis of empathetic and compassionate teaching and leadership. You go first!