We all can use a little compassion in our lives, but the need for compassionate leadership is much more apparent during and after a crisis. The world as we knew it has changed radically over the past few months. Business looks different, and that means leadership does too.
During a crisis, leaders must operate not just from a place of sympathy, or even empathy, but with compassion. It’s not enough to recognize what others are experiencing, but to actively practice compassion by going out of your way to help others emotionally, mentally and physically.
The future requires greater compassion from leaders to ensure the organization and its stakeholders are ready to move forward, together. More importantly, leaders need to demonstrate their role in guiding people through the unknown and into a brighter future.
Moving Towards Compassion
Everyone has experienced some level of disruption – and perhaps trauma – in the past few months. The first instinct for many leaders is to express sympathy, to acknowledge that we’re all going through an “unprecedented” event. While that’s a start, it’s not leading with compassion – and an email about “this difficult time” won’t cut it.
Beyond recognizing what your employees, customers and other stakeholders may be experiencing, you’ll then need to try to understand where they’re coming from by practicing empathy. As a CEO or other senior executive, you won’t have exactly the same concerns as your hourly employees, but practice trying to feel what another person is feeling. How can you relate to concerns about family health, or financial stability? What is happening in the local community that affects both you and your employees?
Once you’ve integrated empathy into your practice, only then can you begin to lead with compassion. Compassion requires taking an active role in understanding, feeling and then being part of the change. Leading with compassion requires using your position and resources to address and alleviate the issues the people you’re charged with caring for are experiencing.
Why Compassion is a Crucial Leadership Skill
As the leader of a business, your tendency may be to focus on more practical measures to make sure your organization can survive the crisis. However, tuning out the emotional can be detrimental to your goal. We talk a lot about the soft skills required to be an effective leader, and the last few months have demonstrated why it’s important to always be working on your emotional development.
While you’re working on how you can lead with passion and with a purpose, you also want to be engaging others in both. Hopefully you’ve used the recent time as an opportunity to better connect with employees, and have encouraged your managers to do the same. Doing so lays the foundation for generating the mutual trust required for leading with compassion.
When you successfully implement compassionate leadership, your organization and the broader community benefit from a well-developed perspective on the current situation. Taking these perspectives into consideration helps foster belonging and unity. Only then can you reimagine a future and move forward having learned something from the crisis.
3 Actionable Steps for Bringing Compassion to Leadership
Compassionate leadership is a necessary – but lofty – goal. It can be hard to know what it looks like in the day-to-day or from an operations level.
Here are 3 ways you can begin leading with compassion:
Start by treating yourself with compassion: Before you can help others, you have to help yourself. Self-compassion involves treating yourself just like you would treat your friends or family members even when they fail or screw up. Make time for honoring and working through your own feelings, whether it’s a daily meditation, working with a coach or other form of self-care
Foster connections with employees, customers and stakeholders: Communicate frequently across multiple mediums, but do it with a purpose. Explain why you are connecting; what they need to know and why; and how to apply the information.
Do what you can to alleviate concerns: Once you’ve heard from stakeholders, consider how you can be part of the solution. Institutional support could take the form of:
- Extended paid leave
- Additional sick days
- Expanded healthcare coverage (e.g. telehealth, mental health, family coverage)
- Flexible schedules to accommodate the needs of the individual and family
- When possible, remote work policies supporting work from anywhere
Reimagine Your New Normal
Anytime after a crisis there’s a transition period to the new normal. Use this time as an opportunity to rediscover your WHY. Do you need to challenge your team? Your organization’s mission? Your own leadership?
At HPS, two of our core values are to take care of your fellow human and to embrace change together. We’ve recently had the opportunity to consider what those values actually mean, and to evaluate how well we’re upholding our values. These values are more important than ever, and I’m grateful for the opportunity for our team to reevaluate and recommit.
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