How to bring your humanity to work to be a better leader in a suffering world

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Coming out of lockdown, we are undoubtedly facing an economic crisis. And business leaders and managers are rolling up their sleeves to take charge and make the decisions needed to survive the challenges and changes this pandemic has wrought on our businesses, and our people.

But this is a social and personal crisis too. People are stressed and anxious. They are worried about their jobs, their families, their health, and their futures.

Faced with this epidemic of suffering, as leaders we need to be taking care as well as taking charge, consciously practising compassionate management to better help our teams and ourselves in the many months ahead. Click To Tweet

The personal touch

Let’s not lose sight of one of the positive developments of lockdown working from home for many: bringing the personal element to work. With families wandering into client Zoom calls and interruptions by children and dogs, it has given a fuller humanising picture of work colleagues, breaking through work assumptions for some to build better personal connections and a more supportive team environment.

It has also brought a humanity into leadership personas where being ‘tough’ was how some leaders automatically responded to pressure. For instance, a client’s small son interrupting a rather intense online meeting to ask if he could have a banana changed the dynamic from confrontational to being much more open and collaborative. We all smiled (including Dad) with human recognition and it put everything into perspective.

What is compassion?

Compassion is empathy in action – a concern for the suffering of others and an aspiration to see that suffering relieved. It has three components:

  • Cognitive – I understand that you are suffering.
  • Affective – I feel for you.
  • Motivational – I want to help you.
Not only is being compassionate a better way to act personally, it is also a powerful way to be as a leader. Click To Tweet

Research shows that compassionate leaders are preferred among employees, more popular among clients, more comfortable to talk to and more positive in giving honest feedback. Crucially, they can lead in a way so that others want to follow. Compassion is contagious.

It’s a matter of trust

Compassionate management helps build trust. People won’t feel safe with you as their leader if they do not trust you and, as Frei and Morriss explain in Begin with trust, trust is one of the most essential forms of capital a leader has.

Trust has three drivers: authenticity, logic and empathy

And when trust is lost, it’s nearly always down to a breakdown in one of these.

Working on your compassion

Compassionate management is something that can be learnt, built on and encouraged. It’s about noticing and paying attention, and like all good leadership skills, it takes practice. Click To Tweet
  • Try having one conversation a day where you just listen to understand, not to solve or give advice. Suffering rarely requires a ‘solution’ and you need to get out of the mindset that your role as a leader is to always ‘fix it.’
  • Really listen and be genuinely enquiring. Put your phone down and give them your full attention, tuning into the full picture including body language and tone of voice.
  • Understand your fear or hesitancy about doing this. Are you afraid it will look soft or weak? Or not be fair, that old ‘let’s not do anything that sets a precedent’ leadership blocker. Compassionate leadership is truly courageous leadership and is neither soft nor unfair.

With adopting any new behaviours, it can seem uncomfortable at first and ‘not really you’, but that does not mean you are being inauthentic. Like learning to drive, you are going through a ‘consciously unconscious’ stage before it starts to feel natural, to bring your humanity to your work.

Be kind to yourself

You deserve some compassionate treatment too. Look for your own supportive network outside the organisation. Remember, you need to look after yourself so you can look after others. Put on your own oxygen mask first…

This is a time of unprecedented economic, social and personal crisis with suffering all around us.  We need to bring everything we have to deal with this situation. The quality of our thinking AND the quality of our feeling is paramount. We need to both take charge and take care, and that requires we bring our humanity to work, and that we work on our humanity.

Explore this issue in more depth in my Institute of Leadership & Management  webinar on Compassionate Management.

As always thanks for reading this and sharing it. Feel free to read more on my blog page.

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