The Secrets of Compassion for Leaders
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” Lao Tzu
Today’s challenge: Be passionate about compassionate leadership.
Compassion doesn’t ignore problems. It isn’t neglecting results or sacrificing forward movement. But leadership without compassion is tyranny.
Successful leaders think about compassion and results, not compassion or results.
Show compassion AND:
- Call out mediocrity.
- Challenge the process.
- Confront and correct.
- Hold people accountable.
It’s weakness to accept mediocrity. But calling out mediocrity without compassion is cruel. Confronting with compassion inspires.
Compassion goes too far when good feelings take priority over mission, vision, and values.
- Boldness to try again.
Brave leaders show compassion by accepting frailties, giving second chances, and driving for the future at the same time.
Four powerful benefits of compassionate leadership:
- Compassion transforms harshness into inspiration by opening hearts to the tough stuff of leadership.
- Compassion turns arrogance into example.
- Compassion strengthens followers.
- Compassion energizes change. There is no lasting change without compassion.
The second secret of compassion:
Turn toward not away.
Do you turn toward need or away?
The challenge of compassion is turning toward need, frailty, and failure. In our pursuit of strengths and success, we like to pretend that teammates don’t struggle. They should just deal with it.
Don’t stand aloof from humanity by pretending everyone is superhuman.
Compassion is turning toward humanity, both ours and theirs. Ask:
- How might you bring your authentic self to work?
- How do you feel? The retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs said the neglected question is how do you feel.
- How can I help?
Turn toward frailty without enabling weakness.
How might leaders practice compassionate leadership without becoming weak?
(The first secret of compassion: Set boundaries.)
To show compassion and not accepting mediocrity means the leader needs to address the performance issues without launching personal attacks on the one’s capacity, integrity and esteem. Arguments and hurtful words may ensue in the heat of the moment at the session but the leader must have the humility to show compassion to recover from the episode and continue to help him /her to improve or facilitate a smooth transition out of the organisation.
Thanks Albert. Brilliant!
I take the idea of pressing hard and when/if you press too far, asking forgiveness.
I embrace “Ruthless prioritization. Compassionate implementation.”
Ruthlessly focusing on what is important, not just the urgent.
Implementing priorities with compassion towards employees and customers.
Thanks Duane. I love, “Ruthless prioritization. Compassionate implementation.” The term ruthless is a useful opposite to compassion.
Compassion is such a strong attribute of leadership, it is often the door opener that allows lasting change of behaviors, not by force but by understanding/experiencing of genuine care..
Thanks for a great post today.
Thanks Ken. We are drawn to compassionate leaders and driven from abusive. Thanks for adding another important idea to the conversation.
“Radical candor” is a combination of compassion and candor. Too much candor and not enough compassion and you are obnoxiously aggressive. Too little candor with too much compassion and you are “ruinously empathetic”. Kim Scott has a great TED Talk on this concept – and I have to give her credit for the terms and approach.
Her belief is the right combination of candor and compassion is the perfect approach but if there was a second place it would be to be candid and direct. It’s better to know than not know. And that’s the problem with having compassion without candor. I think the word for that is “pity”. And who needs pity? Not me.
I’ve been the beneficiary of the right combination of candid and compassion. It gets my attention every time. If you’re merely candid, you’re giving me the opportunity to argue with your conclusions because now I’m focusing on your behaviour. Give me just compassion and I might think you’re too weak to be effective or, frankly, not caring enough. Give me both and it’s hard for me to ignore the problem!
Very well put. Thanks for the referral to the TED talk, I am definitely going to check it out.
This, for me, is the heart of leadership. While I know I am truly compassionate, I sometimes struggle with calling out mediocrity. I may fall into either accepting mediocrity, or coming across as unsympathetic. It takes time to be compassionate, to understand a person’s performance and convey your empathy for them. So I try to set aside time on the front end to understand certain performance issues (sort of a “cooling off” and taking the emotion out of the response) then time to communicate with the person what I want for them, for myself and for the organization.
Dan, I have a mantra for you…
“Helping leaders learn more… so they can serve more!”
Thxs for all you Dan!
Good day, all
Lovely article and very timely for me. One query in relation to one of the four powerful benefits of compassionate leadership. I don’t understand how ‘Compassion turns arrogance into example’.
I’d be grateful for any insights on this one. It sounds good!
My thought, Elizabeth, is that once we take the action of leading by example, we have taken the arrogance of our directives away. We roll up our sleeves, get dirty, and demonstrate a willingness to help and support. It’s also a very concrete way to set the standard. Compassion must go beyond “feelings” and into actions to be effective.
Thanks Bill, that makes sense.