How to Show Compassion and Get Results
Done poorly, compassion prolongs weakness, propagates irresponsibility, and validates destructive behaviors.
Compassion, like all great virtues, requires insight to be practiced skillfully.
Compassion is a ‘people first’ approach to leadership. It’s messy and more difficult, but advantages include:
- Courage to try again after falling short.
When leaders reject compassion in order to achieve results they dehumanize organizations.
‘People first’ is a disservice to organizations when compassion for one person dishonors, de-energizes, or devalues others.
Immature compassion refuses to speak hard truths. Any compassion based on lies is a vile excuse for a noble virtue. Mature compassion is willing to hurt to help.
Compassion is never avoidance.
Misguided compassion retreats from challenging people to challenge themselves. Anything that prolongs mediocrity can’t be compassion. It’s never compassionate to accept half-hearted effort as normal.
Compassion calls for exceptional performance from capable team members. It’s offensive to accept average performance from highly talented people.
It’s easier to lay down the law than to figure out what compassion means. Mature compassion is rich, powerful, and challenging. It’s compassionate, for example, to protect teams from energy vampires*, even if it means removing them.
If you aren’t sure what compassion looks like, explore options. Ask the team what it looks like to show compassion to a team member who isn’t performing well. Ask the teammate. Ask people outside your organization.
Companions of compassion:
Compassion needs companions to achieve noble ends.
Compassion on its own validates the concerns leaders have about weakness, cowardice, and lackluster performance.
Compassion is a perfect companion for:
- Conflict resolution.
- Hiring and firing.
Compassion reaches its goal when it fills people with courage, resolve, and energy.
Long-term advantage is achieved when leaders show compassion on short-term frailties.
What concerns do leaders have about compassion?
How might leaders integrate compassion into their leadership?
*”Energy vampires” come from Jon Gordon’s best selling book, The Energy Bus.
Thanks for this post. It’s thought provoking and saves ‘compassion’ from being another of those fuzzy words that ends up meaning very little! One thought I have is that the kind of compassion you’re talking about relies on being practised in an environment of trust. And the establishment of such an environment requires clarity, authenticity and consistency of approach on the part of leaders and managers. You are right that it is not compassionate to excuse poor performance in anyone. At the same time, it is compassionate to recognise the limitations of each individual when demanding each person’s best, and showing to the team by example that candid, open discussion can go both ways – if that environment of trust is recognised and honoured in the process.
When we establish ground rules as Leaders for all parties involved you can still have a feel/felt role with everyone. Compassion can be a tool which connects, if used in a sense of partnership. Keep in mind you still have to follow your guidelines, it’s easy to let your heart intertwine with compassion and cause conflicts. Know your roots of everyone who is part of the journey.
Compassion can be very messy for leaders. Often leaders get compassion and empathy mixed up. If you find yourself saying “I understand” and it turns into a story time, that is a fail. Now if you use it to connect while trying to pull the employee back to focus on the team it may work.