In our personal lives, I’m sure most of us would consider ourselves to be both compassionate and empathetic, especially when dealing with our loved ones. But, would you say that you’re always your most compassionate and empathetic-self when you’re at work? Possibly not.
Traditionally, there has sometimes been a difference between how we treat those we work with, and those we live and spend time with outside of the workplace. As I explained in my last blog, this must change, and it needs to change quickly.
Why compassionate leadership is crucial in today’s world of work
As the world of work evolves, it’s becoming increasingly important that we all take steps to adapt our approach to how we lead our teams. Why? Because all the change that we’re witness to in the workplace – changing technology, changing job roles, changing skills, changing working patterns – demands that we, as leaders are more compassionate and supportive in the way we lead our people.
As I explained in my previous blog, being a compassionate leader is not about ‘going soft’ or being some kind of pushover. Far from it. It’s about being able to:
- Be self-aware and practice self-compassion
- Put yourself in the shoes of others, and understand their world
- See yourself as a conductor of an orchestra
- Make your people feel personally accountable for the work they do
- Provide constructive and valuable feedback to your team
Ultimately compassionate leadership is about you, as a leader, doing everything you can to ensure the team around you thrives. It’s about you ensuring they have all the support they need to be creative, to problem solve, to push themselves out of their comfort zones and to learn. When you take a truly compassionate approach to leadership, you will ultimately ensure that your team will not only adapt to this constant backdrop of change, but they will thrive in it.
So, how can you become a more compassionate leader?
The good news is that we can all learn to become more compassionate leaders. Here are a few steps you can take:
Take some time to self-reflect: Self-reflection is often the first step to becoming a more compassionate leader. Think about all the times when you may have tended to revert to less-than-desirable tactics when managing or leading your people. For example, perhaps a project deadline is fast-approaching – with a member of your team playing a crucial role – so, you ask them “…are you going to get it done on time?” Instead, in this situation, a more compassionate approach would be to ask them something like, “…the deadline is next week – do you have everything you need to get it done in time?” Articulating your support for your team will be far more helpful and constructive, particularly during busy times when the pressure is on. So, take some time to reflect on how you interact, and importantly, the words you use, when interacting with your team.
Adjust your language: Using your words in a way that shows your understanding of how your people feel in certain challenging situations – empathising with their situation, rather than merely sympathising – can make an immense difference to how well you work as unit. Such phrases as “I can see how important this is to you”, “I know this can be frustrating”, “let’s see if we can solve this together” and “I’d like to help you if I can” strike at the heart of compassionate leadership as a form of ‘co-suffering’. Language like this is key to communicating to your workers that you genuinely share their pain, instead of merely claiming to understand their pain.
Be authentic and don’t be afraid to share your shortcomings: Part of being a compassionate leader is about bringing your authentic self to the office every day. This will allow your people to feel comfortable in asking you for support, thus building a culture of trust and learning within your team. So, don’t be afraid to show that you are a ‘real’ person, including being honest about your shortcomings and skills gaps. Remember, your role as a leader is to be the ‘conductor of your orchestra’, bringing each part together at the right time to create something great. As our CEO, Alistair Cox says, “… you don’t need to be the most qualified person on your team. It’s not your job to be ‘better’ than everyone else, or indeed to be ‘better’ at everything than everyone else.” As a leader, you are on just as much of a learning and development journey as your employees.
Appreciate the views of others: It can bring real benefits to your team and, indeed, your wider workplace, if you are able to clear your mind, put your personal views to one side, and try to see situations from the perspective of your people. Always attempt to envisage yourself in the shoes of your team members in every challenging scenario you face. Doing this will help you build a more inclusive team culture, one where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are heard, which can only ever be a good thing for both your team members and the wider business. It will also help you better understand and plan for what exactly your team members need from you in order to overcome challenges, adapt to change and solve problems.
Create a psychologically safe team culture: Occasional errors and mistakes are to be expected. What’s important is how we learn from them and refine our approach for next time. Compassionate leaders know this. They will take steps to create a psychologically safe culture within their teams – a culture whereby everyone feels empowered and supported to try new things and take moderate risks, even if they make mistakes and things don’t go as planned. And, if errors are made, they know they won’t be unfairly chastised or punished. Instead, they’ll encourage their people to take everything they can from the situation, see it as a learning experience, and move on.
Genuinely take an interest in, and care about your employees as people: Your people are human beings, not robots – so treat them like the former, not the latter. Show your employees that you ‘have their back’ and can (and will) step in to provide any assistance or support they might need. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need from you, and how you can help them to ensure they get a particular task done to a high standard and by the deadline. Also, show an interest in their personal lives, grabbing coffee or lunch together from time to time, and asking them how their weekend was, for example.
Ask questions and be an active listener: It might sound obvious, but an essential part of being a more compassionate leader is actively listening to what your people have to say, rather than just passively hearing them. To put it like the late author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey, you need to listen with the intent to understand the person speaking, rather than merely intent to reply. So, in your next team meeting, try to actively listen to what your employees are saying in a non-judgemental way. Ask questions, paraphrase and clarify their key points and, importantly, reflect on the conversation afterwards.
Get better at giving feedback: Giving feedback well is an important element of compassionate leadership as it opens the recipients eyes up to the changes they need to make in order to thrive. Importantly, a compassionate leader will always explain that they are ultimately there to help their team improve – whilst giving them the resources they need to succeed, and being clear on what improvements they expect to see. The most effective leaders know that it’s perfectly possible to be compassionate, whilst also genuinely holding their team members to account for their performance. If you’re keen to understand how you can get better at giving feedback, as this blog outlines, you must ensure that the feedback you give is:
- Regular, frequent and ongoing
- Sincere and honest
- Not judgemental
- Shared in private
Never has a compassionate approach to leadership been more important. The world of work is evolving, and the demands it is placing on us all are in a constant state of flux. So, as leaders, we must do everything we can to ensure every person on our team has everything they need to thrive, both now and in the future.