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In today’s fast-paced, highly complex business world, being an effective leader is no longer optional — it’s the price of admission that gets you into the arena. Once you’re there, surviving, thriving, achieving, contributing and enduring the test of time requires reaching way beyond effectiveness.
I believe that until leaders are willing to open their hearts and dig into the humanity of this work, they won’t make significant progress in developing employees and finding common ground that builds trust, cultivates critical thinking and inspires innovation. In other words, effective leadership is less about mastering situations and more about developing a genuine interest and skill for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.
In an earlier article, I discussed the “what” and “how” of compassionate leadership — what it looks like, its uniqueness and how it’s different from contemporary organizational leadership. Now, I believe it’s important to address the misconceptions surrounding compassionate leadership and the impact addressing these misconceptions can truly have on your team.
Leading with compassion doesn’t make you weak.
In my opinion, leadership is a human capacity, not a position. It’s a gift, talent and skill. But I’ve observed that this view of leadership isn’t very common, as some people today still view it as a position of authority that comes with a title and power over others. While I agree that the roles we choose and the hats we wear highlight our abilities in the realm of leadership, I believe the essence of being human is being able to direct and lead one’s self in a manner that is effective. Therefore, leadership is inherent within us, and in my opinion, the degree to which we tap into this gift and expand our capacity starts with self-awareness.
Whether we lead one or many, I believe the deeply-rooted power of leadership allows each of us to reinvent ourselves, change our future and powerfully influence the rest of the environment, organization, group or society — for better or for worse. But in my experience of teaching leaders how to show compassion, I’ve found there are a few misconceptions that surround this style of leadership:
Misconception No. 1: Compassionate leaders get too close to those around them.
In truth: Compassionate leaders recognize that building relationships and caring about the people within their organizations and their well-being is essential. Therefore, they genuinely connect with the interests, ideas, fears and concerns of those they lead while being very intentional about what activities they engage in with their followers.
Misconception No. 2: Compassionate leaders focus on making everyone happy.
In truth: Compassionate leaders focus on building trust and meet people with kindheartedness and authenticity to create an environment that fosters open communication, courage and creativity.
Misconception No. 3: Compassionate leaders are too sensitive or “too nice.”
In truth: Compassionate leaders are finely attuned to the feelings of others and tend to be conscientious and thorough. I’ve observed that many of these leaders are able to recognize errors and potential risks in their companies. I’ve seen that this allows them to address the root of any issues plaguing the organization and the people in it.
The bottom line is, I believe a leader accepts responsibility for the output of a group and recognizes the full value of their team — with the conviction, courage and compassion to develop it.
Showing compassion can make a difference.
Let’s consider the hypothetical case of an organization struggling to expand: Up until now, revenue has soared into the millions, customer satisfaction is high, employee turnover is low, and the company recognizes double-digit net profits year over year. However, the growth of the company has plateaued, so a business development executive — let’s call him Steve — was hired to help lead the expansion.
A year into Steve’s strategy, employees put forth a great effort, and the organization increased its revenue. But as time went on, profitability began to decline, so Steve criticized team members and was careless about how his opinions were perceived. In my experience, when you provide criticism without constructive avenues for improvement, your team’s trust and motivation can decline.
I’ve also found that compassionate leadership means listening to your team. In Steve’s case, profits weren’t improving because he wasn’t willing to consider anyone else’s ideas on how to improve, and employees began leaving the company. Believing that simply assuming a leadership position made him a great leader proved to be a damaging misconception — and everyone paid for it.
When leaders are compassionate, employees tend to be more trusting and have a greater commitment to the company. Based on my experience teaching and working with compassionate leaders, Steve could have instead acknowledged his own negative behavior and tried to correct it by expressing his feelings of frustration and uncertainty. Rather than offering criticism in a non-productive way, he could have modeled and encouraged employees to strive toward a positive goal.
Cultivating a culture of inclusivity and diverse perspectives is key, and using the power within the team to find solutions and take action can be helpful if you’re feeling stuck as a leader.
I believe this scenario might have played out differently had Steve stopped believing misconceptions surrounding leadership and quit hiding behind cynicism when faced with the data that pointed to his ineffective methodology.
As a leader, don’t pretend to have all the answers. Communicate with your team clearly and with confidence and optimism, regardless of how frustrating things might be. I’ve found that to lead with compassion, you must recognize the difference between working together to get the job done right and the need to always be right.
Until you are a leader, it can be difficult to understand the critical role compassion plays in a company. I believe it expands one’s leadership capacity and develops leadership skills in others that enliven a team to actualize a unified vision.
April 12, 2019 at 08:33AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs