How to Lead with Compassion but Not Be a Pushover
Compassion goes wrong when it goes too far. Too much compassion prolongs helplessness, failure, and mediocrity.
Compassion done well fuels confidence, excellence, and success.
Organizations without compassion are fear-filled, ugly places to work.
Don’t extend compassion to those who won’t acknowledge need. They’ll despise you for it.
Extend compassion to those who acknowledge failure, struggle, turmoil, or uncertainty. Otherwise, stay available, but let them struggle.
Compassion is weak and irrelevant in organizations that punish honesty, frailty, transparency, and candor.
Where imperfections are punished, compassion is liability.
Who on your team needs compassion today?
- Painful failure.
- Personal struggles.
- Personality clashes.
- Physical maladies.
- Emotional turmoil.
- Circumstantial uncertainty.
- Challenging opportunities that stretch skills and experience.
7 ways to be a compassionate leader:
- Face the inconvenience that comes with concern for another’s well-being. Compassion takes time, energy, and patience. It takes strength to show compassion.
- Move toward those who struggle even though others want justice – stand with – rather than standing aloof.
- Extend forgiveness to those who regret failure. Give second chances.
- Speak with kindness while holding high standards.
- See from another’s point of view.
- Withhold anger.
- Meet a need.
Bonus: Leadership compassion includes managing-out those who don’t fit.
Compassion only matters when things go wrong.
7 compassion tips:
- Don’t extend compassion to excuse-makers and blamers, unless you want more blame and excuses. Compassion is affirmation.
- Remember your own struggle, frailty, and failure. Competence is won through hard fought battles.
- Show concern, but don’t intervene unless invited.
- Discuss issues kindly. Help people find their own solutions. Don’t solve.
- Affirm past efforts before talking next time.
- Extend compassion after struggle or failure, not before. Don’t protect people; enable them.
- Ask, “What are you learning?”
When does compassion go too far?
How can leaders show compassion without being pushovers.
This is a brilliant message of when to be compassionate and when not to. If you have an excuser or blamer, as in Compassion Tip #1, what do you suggest instead of the compassion?
Thanks Pete. Blamers or excuse-makers need to feel the negative consequences of their failures. That includes not helping until they own their responsibilities. In the end, I believe that is compassionate as well.
Well, put, Dan. I couldn’t agree more. The “com” in compassion is latin for “together.” If you are with someone on their journey, you want them to head towards overall wellbeing. Part of getting back to center and the journey is learning how to best handle obstacles and challenges. We all need to develop those skills! You can be for someone as a person and an overall journey of wellbeing and progress, but not for their current direction. 🙂
I agree, it is short, good and right to the point…. it was helpful for me in solving current problems at organization… thanks
Dan, this speaks strongly to those of us in education, especially the compassion tips. Someone with tenure or a continuing contract who doesn’t pull their weight doesn’t earn compassion unless you want more of the same.
Thanks fritzm2014. As I was writing this today, I realized the compassion is a form of affirmation. We need to be careful what we affirm.
Could you speak a little more to “Leadership compassion is managing-out those who don’t fit”?
Thanks Emily. Great question. Skip gave a helpful response. I concur.
Before Dan jumps in I’ll take a stab at your question. If the organizational leader realizes an individual is not a fit, more times than not the individual isn’t comfortable in, or with ,the environment either. Often, they don’t want to see themselves as a quitter and think it may not be good for their resume or future, so they hang in there making themselves and everyone around them miserable. This may even be the cause of their inability to perform or behave in a way that does fit.
Therefore, it is compassionate to bring this to their attention and help them to transition out sooner rather than later so they can find someplace that is a better fit for them and the organization can look to find someone that is a better fit for it.
This saves everyone time, energy, happiness, productivity, etc.
Dan, how did I do?
Thanks Skip! Love it. Sounds like the voice of experience. Successful leaders dig into these awkward conversations looking for great solutions. I think that’s compassionate. Cheers
Skip describes it well as I experienced it first hand. During my second year in a new position, I began to feel I was one that did not fit and it was a very dark year with no one addressing the issue. During one of the evaluation meetings I asked, “Why did you hire me?” It turns out the reason I was hired was because I had talents the others on the team didn’t have, and that made me not fit the norm. While I shared the vision, I did not share common practices. At the end of the second year, I was asked if I was ready to throw in the towel, to which I answered, “If you had asked me that a couple of months ago the answer would have been yes, and now the answer is, no.” Leadership cannot lead or be compassionate when they are in the midst of their own struggle. In my case the leadership changed at the end of that year and I found that the environment gave me feedback that helped me figure out how to fit and what part was okay not to fit.
Awesome post. Compassion is sorely lacking in many organizations. Harder still is the lack of listening when someone brings forth systems issues that lead to multiple failures. Love your posts!
Thanks Peggy. I think we are afraid of compassion because we mistakenly think it’s weak. And, I suppose, some forms of compassion are weak.
I’ve come to appreciate how important good systems are to sustainable success. Cheers
This is so true and so needed! I love these two: speak with kindness while holding high standards, and Leadership compassion includes managing-out those who don’t fit. Too often, I see people who think they’re being compassion when they’re holding back truth from a person who is constantly falling well below the standard set for the group or organization. Neglect of truth for sake of feelings only results in contempt, resentment and a consistent lack of excellence. I love the phrase my husband uses, “Confrontation is the highest form of love.” …just because you have to confront doesn’t mean it has to be ugly! 🙂
Great article. God shows us compassion everyday when we sin against him. Read a new post I put up on my blog and give me your feedback http://www.gbfyn.wordpress.com. Thank you.
When compassion goes too far, it is no longer compassion. Perhaps it is just being nice. Nice is not always the kindest course of action.
There are outfits out there engendering compassion while concurrently enjoying a high degree of success.
Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people. Lasting compassion as well can come only to compassionate people. I like to think of true compassion as much more than merely sympathy, empathy etc. True compassion is not pity for another, it is that there is no another. You are them and they are you. We are all separate and we are all one. This really is so true in a team. The teams “success” is dependent on all members’ actions and interactions. When we are in a true compassionate mind state, we are only capable of using kindness, and incapable of anger. This is not easy to do, so of course we need strategies to employ, but reliance on only strategies may ensure dependence on them el lieu of attempts at continuing to increase our capacity for compassion.
Additionally, in many business settings there is rarely compassion for competitors. That is just the nature of the beast. This can be a difficult balance. In other words, compassion is not a some of the time thing, it is an all the time thing.
Great for a junior leader as me. These tips help! Thank you.
Great post. Spot-on stuff.
excellent post. My experience seconds these well laid points as well.
As a former Clinical Counselor, we used the word “enable” to mean enabling dysfunctional behavior, beliefs or thinking to continue, which is similar to coddling your “excuse makers and blamers”. It is a word also used in addiction recovery to mean the same thing. I think you meant “enable” as enabling others to do their best work. And, certainly compassion and Respectful Assertiveness (as opposed to Confrontation which has a negative connotation) can go hand in hand as a part of that. We are not truly helping people if we support what is not working in their best interests and the best interests of the company. Compassion or empathy establishes trust in a relationship where people are more open to hearing “the hard stuff” and allows them room to change versus becoming defensive and entrenched.
I appreciate your compact wisdom!
Helpful post, Dan!
I can see where I myself have been on the receiving end of compassion, as well as where I need to grow in my ability to extend it to others.
To ask, ‘What is being learned? throughout the process is so important a question. One which can be helpful for those sitting on both sides of the table and result in positive change for all.
We hear about compassion all the time, and read about it as an element of leadership blogs. Glad that Dan has dedicated the entire blog to compassion. Plenty of insight in this one . . . Now, I’m going to read it again and start practicing the principles.