We live in times of chaos. The world is in the midst civil and political crisis. We’ve just come through the most destructive pandemic we will experience in our lifetimes. Global economies are in freefall. We are witnessing Depression-era levels of unemployment. We are being severely tested.

The literal meaning of compassion is ‘to suffer together’. It is the feelings of sympathy and sadness for the misfortune of others and a compelling need to help them reduce their suffering.

In this post-Covid world, perhaps the greatest skill a leader can possess, is compassion.

‘Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.’ Oprah Winfrey

If leaders can’t connect with their people in order to inspire them, they’re going to fall short.

But empathy and compassion on their own aren’t enough. Businesses and organisations – more so than ever – need strong leaders.

Why Is Compassionate Leadership Important?

Hark back twenty, fifteen, or even as recently as ten years ago. The message was the same, everywhere.

Personal problems should be left at home. The workplace must be emotion-free. Mental health wasn’t ‘a thing’. The only acceptable attitude was one of toxic positivity.

Thankfully, these businesses are dead or dying and these attitudes are no longer tolerated.

Leaders with compassion understand that the head and the heart are important to use when making decisions.

Leaders with compassion understand they should treat their employees in the same way they’d like to be treated.

Compassionate leaders create an inclusive and diverse working environment that makes their employees feel valued and safe.

Compassion creates connections, it builds trust and it improves employee engagement. People buy in to the vision of leaders with compassion. Leaders without compassion get  work-by-the-numbers people just doing it for the money.

Leadership Is Hard

As we said, compassion on its own is rarely enough. It needs to be combined with competence and strength of character.

Effective leadership involves a deep understanding of what motivates people and how to manage and deliver an agenda. Sometimes hard decisions are required, including giving tough feedback, disappointing people and, on occasion, telling people their services are no longer required.

What leaders mustn’t do is let compassion and empathy be a barrier to taking effective action. There is room for both.

It’s All About The People

When staff understand their leaders care as much about their well-being and their relationship with them as they do about their productivity, they thrive. It gives them meaning, drive and purpose. It creates a stable work environment where productivity naturally flows.

In a 2012 research paper titled Understanding Individual Compassion in Organisations: The Role of Appraisals and Psychological Flexibility by Paul Atkins and Sharon Parker, they identified four behaviours of compassionate leadership.

Attending Listening is probably the most important leadership skill and compassionate leaders take time to listen to the challenges, obstacles, frustrations and harms their colleagues and teams experience, as well as listening to accounts of their successes and joys.

Understanding This involves taking time to properly explore and understand the myriad situations people are struggling with, be it personal relationships, mental health, financial worries or indeed any one of dozens of issues. It implies valuing and exploring conflicting perspectives rather than leaders simply imposing their own understanding.

Empathising This involves mirroring and feeling colleagues’ distress, frustration, joy, etc, without being overwhelmed by the emotion and becoming unable to help.

Helping This involves taking thoughtful and intelligent action to support individuals and teams. Removing obstacles that get in the way of people doing their work (e.g. chronic excessive workloads, conflicts between departments) and providing the resources people and services need (e.g. staff, equipment, training) are the most important tasks for leaders.

The Results

It is widely believed that people who are part of supportive teams with compassionate leaders experience lowers levels of stress. It is also believed that staff engagement and job satisfaction levels rise, and attrition rates fall.

It’s not rocket science to suggest that meeting the core needs of employees – over and above salary and associated perks – is an important way to support and enhance their motivation and well-being, both within the office environment and, often crucially, outside of it.

Productivity and compassion are inextricably linked. One rarely works without the other.

For more information on how to become a leader with compassion, contact us today!

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