Visualise a leader with the perfect educational background, years of expertise, and sharp business acumen. A leader knows how to lead from the head, make great business decisions, act with strategic intent, and is the gold standard for leadership in his/her respective industry. However, this leader, in order to grow also needs to know how to lead from the heart. And here comes to play the power of Compassion.
What makes a Compassionate leader? The definition of a “Compassionate leader” may be a bit esoteric, but it is clear that almost all leaders that believe in the Power of Compassion have the following traits in common.
1. A learning mindset: Effective leaders believe that no matter how high up the corporate ladder they climb, there’s always room to learn something from others. They continually seek feedback on how to do better and do not have a know-it-all attitude. Vulnerability helps them embrace shortcomings and failures in both self and others, leading to a more developmental approach to performance rather than the proverbial carrot and stick!
2. Removing barriers: Leaders who lead from the heart enable their teams to be their best selves by removing two kinds of barriers; The first kind is internal barriers, the thoughts, and emotions that hold people back from achieving success; The second is external barriers, like knowledge gaps or lack of resources.
3. Impact-focused: Success is measured by the lasting positive impact made on customers and stakeholders. These leaders are constantly on the lookout to help others, rising above selfishness and insecurity.
4. Influence-seeking: A compassionate leader seeks to influence, not to be an authority or to control. These leaders are far from being micro-managers and are not afraid to delegate power to team members, thereby establishing trust and holding members accountable for their duties.
5. Multipliers: Compassionate leaders can bring individuals together and make them work as a cohesive unit by putting in concerted efforts. They also know how to highlight the unique qualities each member brings to the table, allowing them to maintain their individuality while working as a group. They are the proverbial “multipliers”
Compassionate leaders create workspaces where a culture of openness and honesty thrives. The result is an environment where employees have trust in one another, as well as in their individual abilities. There is also room for freedom of expression since a non-judgemental approach allows individuals to air out ideas without the fear of harsh criticism, allowing for more innovation and creativity.
Compassionate leadership is more important now than ever before, as organisations grapple with the realities of WFH, and the lines between work and home become blurrier by the day. According to a recent Gallup survey State of the Global Workplace:2021 Report, 47% of employees in Southeast Asia said that they experienced worry, 30% said that they experienced sadness, 24% experienced anger during a lot of the previous day, with 42% of adults saying that their life had been affected a lot. These statistics paint a grave picture of our future of work, and call for a more compassionate approach to leadership, especially in the aftermath of the Pandemic.
Leaders should note that compassion isn't just about kindness and care alone. A Harvard Business Review article states that compassion needs to be paired with leadership competence or wisdom to be truly effective. It acknowledges that sometimes, to be a competent and effective leader, you might need to make difficult decisions and give tough feedback.
In a low-wisdom high-compassion workplace, empathy and caring become a barrier to action. In a low-wisdom low-compassion workplace, leadership is both ineffective and indifferent towards its people. In a high-wisdom low-compassion situation, leaders are extremely effective but will end up putting business objectives before their people. The ideal aim should be to combine compassion and wisdom and to get tough things done in an empathetic and genuine way.
However, compassion alone wouldn’t make the cut- Purpose needs to be inculcated in the culture as well. A clear sense of purpose allows employees to look at the bigger picture. When you know your WHY, the HOW easily follows. That is why a company that lacks purpose but has a culture of compassion might stagnate and never reach its true potential. For a company to thrive to its true potential, it needs to have a laser-like focus on what its purpose is, and be compassionate in its approach towards its people.
Since compassion isn’t teachable, you have to learn by doing, by practicing:
1. Begin with Yourself: Start by having a sense of self-compassion. You can’t pour from an empty glass— so let the change start from within. Cultivate positive self-talk and do away with self-criticism by framing setbacks as learning experiences.
2. Check Your Intention: Put yourself in the shoes of others and ask yourself “how can I best help this person?” and work with deliberation and focus to achieve that.
3. Practice Compassion Daily: Adopt a daily compassion exercise— whether you want to use apps like The Potential Project, or turn to practice mindfulness daily—make compassion a habit.
Leaders who are now seasoned experts in their field, and are experienced in team management should ponder upon whether they have been leading from both the head and the heart. Maintain a balance between the two, and your business and your teams will flourish.
“If you’re always going to worry about being in charge, when are you going to worry about people in your charge?”