Five Easy-Breezy Steps to Becoming a Compassionate Leader Even In Crisis
There will always be opinions and discussion about the traits that are important to strong leadership. But there’s one trait that every successful leader must have, and that’s compassion. Good leaders have the intellectual capacity to visualize, strategize, and execute successfully. Great leaders have something additional that makes them exceptional: the ability to lead with compassion. Today I’m going to share with you five easy-breezy steps to becoming a compassionate leader, even in crisis.
Compassion may be the most important measure of human evolution. In fact, Darwin believed that caring about others is our strongest human instinct.
Many of us are so accustomed to the idea that the most effective leaders are tough and firm, that we mistakenly think that to be compassionate towards others is to ‘go soft’ or be a pushover when it comes to leadership. In reality, leading with compassion can be quite the opposite. Compassionate leaders understand that it is, in fact, compassion that ultimately fuels innovation and creativity, and it therefore guides everything they do. So, as leaders, is it time we redefined in our own minds what we mean by compassionate leadership? I think so.
Organizations could be actively working towards creating a culture of compassion where leaders are not only free but encouraged to behave in ways that demonstrate compassion and kindness to those they lead.
Of note, when an organization deals with staff members they occasionally do so in less than compassionate ways, however those same employees expect compassion when the tables are turned and would expect to be treated compassionately. The old adage that you must walk in another’s shoes holds true to compassionate leadership. Leaders must be able to demonstrate and act compassionately toward themselves and others, that means looking after yourself and those that you lead. It is treating people at work how you would like to be treated.
Leading with compassion builds resilience, fosters a team-spirit, boosts engagement, and contributes to lower levels of staff turnover.
It also removes barriers, creates confidence in place of fear and cultivates a work environment where employees feel a greater sense of commitment to their organization. While it might be tempting in a crisis to keep your head down and work on maintaining control through authority, it is actually vital to turn inwards towards personal rising anxieties and fears.
What are the traits of a compassionate leader? It’s about putting the development of your people at the heart of everything that you do. The typical compassionate leader, then, possesses such qualities as those I’ve listed below. Here are some of the things great leaders do that you can emulate to build your own capacity for consideration and compassion.
Step #1: Listen and Learn
Compassionate leaders understand that no matter how great they think they are, they are still surrounded by other intelligent people who are full of ideas that can enhance their skills and knowledge to lead even more effectively. When leaders operate as if they know everything, they harden themselves to new ideas by stubbornly assuming they have nothing more to learn to be effective in their role. There is no compassion in that mindset.
Leadership requires learning.
Leadership is the sum total of mistakes made, and the learning and growing it takes to remain patient, yet persistent, in their objectives. Compassionate leaders possess the modesty to continually seek feedback under the belief system they can only grow their team to the extend they grow themselves. They have care and concern for all people and build upon that care and concern to develop relationships. They are genuinely interested in the people around them. Besides being aware of their own gifts and strengths, they know the gifts and strengths of the people they lead. Through the development of relationships, they create healthy environments of trust where everyone is supported, encouraged, and celebrated.
You are a leader, but that doesn’t mean you know it all.
If you’re good at your job, you’ve surrounded yourself with intelligent people who possess wisdom and smarts, so listen to them and solicit their opinions. Give them the chance to contribute their expertise and strengths. Being stubborn or thinking you know it all kills compassion. Instead, be open to the growth that can come from allowing yourself to learn from others. Effective leadership finds its source in listening and understanding. The amount of time you spend talking to and listening to an employee is a sign of how important you consider them to be–to you and to the organization. That’s why the best leaders spend a lot of time walking around and chatting with their employees. They invite their comments and encourage open discussion and disagreements about work. This approach results in an environment where people feel the work belongs to them as well as to the company.
Too often, leaders seek to take command, direct conversations, talk too much, or worry about what they will say next in defense or rebuttal.
Additionally, leaders can react quickly, get distracted during a conversation, or fail to make the time to listen to others. Finally, leaders can be ineffective at listening if they are competitive, if they multitask such as reading emails or text messages, or if they let their egos get in the way of listening to what others have to say. Instead, leaders need to start by really caring about what other people have to say about an issue. Research also shows that active listening, combined with empathy or trying to understand others’ perspectives and points of view is the most effective form of listening. Henry Ford once said that if there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put oneself in another person’s place and to see things from his or her point of view — as well as from one’s own.
Listening to another person can take us out of the narrow, self-centered world that we often unknowingly create and open us to another person’s experience.
This can shift our experience of ourselves and foster a connection with another person that fulfills the empathic ape’s need and longing for trust and openness. Listening with your full attention, both to words and feelings, creates an environment of learning and going deeper, while building the connective tissue of trust and understanding. As leaders implement policies and changes, be aware of your own fears, biases and active positions on controversial topics that may hinder active listening. Employees should not be apprehensive when approaching a leader to discuss policies that may pose an unfair hardship, may be unclear or overly complex, or may come from fear of the unknown instead of an educated perspective.
Step #2: Self-awareness
Compassionate leaders also have compassion for themselves, which is an important element. As Uvinie Lubecki, CEO of Leading Through Connection, explains: “The lens through which we see ourselves is the same lens through which we see others. If we can extend kindness toward ourselves as leaders and recognize when things get tough that we’re doing our best and that our intention is to be of benefit, this can be a powerful practice.”
Integrating your own feelings, although it might sound like woo-woo, is fundamental in developing your skills in compassionate leadership.
Integrating your felt responses means normalizing, getting comfortable with, and sharing emotions. A leader’s natural reaction during a crisis is to restore stability, including mobilizing people and resources and planning ahead in anticipation of further disruption. This means developing your self-awareness. To skillfully embrace and understand trauma-related emotions, a compassionate leader must allow feelings to be felt. Otherwise, there is no basis to understand and empathize with those you seek to relate. Tuning in to assimilate your own fears and emotions, creates an emotional fluency that then forms a basis for understanding others. This understanding means that you are positioned to alleviate fear by supporting others, enabling them and your business to recover and prosper.
The best leaders are self-aware, a character trait highly correlated with personal and professional success.
The first step in providing exceptional guidance to teams is to understand your capabilities and shortcomings. It’s difficult to be compassionate if you don’t know how to manage your own emotions. People who are overwhelmed by their emotions have difficulty not being overwhelmed by the emotions of others. In addition to evaluating yourself, honestly assess your company. Does it have a culture that allows its employees to express kindness and practice selflessness? If your workplace prioritizes open communication and respect, you have a solid foundation for compassionate leadership. If even suggesting such behaviors feels foreign, there’s work to do.
Are you hard on yourself? Do you find that you judge your progress or pace if life? Is your inner voice telling you that you’re not there yet but that you should be?
If this sounds familiar, now’s the perfect moment to pause to give yourself some much-deserved compassion and loving kindness by expanding your self-awareness. As you move forward on your journey, learn to listen to your instinct. Your inner voice knows a great deal about you and your needs. Although it might be tempting to let others make decisions for you, learn the power of taking input from others and using whatever is helpful to make your own decision. The more you take this approach, the stronger and more powerful you’ll feel.
When we are mindful of our struggles, and respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and support in times of difficulty, things start to change.
When we mindfully observe our pain, we can acknowledge our suffering without exaggerating it, allowing us to take a wiser and more objective perspective on ourselves and our lives. Many people fear self-compassion is really just a form of self-pity. In fact, self-compassion is an antidote to self-pity. While self-pity says “poor me,” self-compassion recognizes that life is hard for everyone. Research shows that self-compassionate people are more likely to engage in perspective taking, rather than focusing on their own distress. They are also less likely to ruminate on how bad things are, which is one of the reasons self-compassionate people have better mental health.
Step #3: Boldness Be My Friend
As compassion is so rare in the corporate world, compassionate leaders show a distinct level of courage when they choose to be compassionate to self or other. They are after all possibly working against the grain or challenging the typical management status quo and expectations of how leaders are expected to behave. They have a sense of duty and responsibility to do what it right, to act ethically and to evaluate the impact of decisions and behaviors on all those that may be impacted by them. Compassionate leaders intentionally and mindfully engage in such compassionate practice with themselves and those we lead.
Sometimes leading from the front involves taking risks, relating bad news or delivering constructive criticism, a compassionate approach is not avoiding these scenarios.
Being courageous and compassionate is all about taking the long view and doing what is best for all involved. A compassionate leader looks courageously at challenges with interest rather than dismay. This sets the tone for your team members and keeps morale high. The compassionate leadership style is to encourage and lead from the front by example, not demand. By doing so you bring your team members together to pull together as a collective. After all, successful leaders know that the great things in life or business are never accomplished by an individual person. Success is always a team effort. For teams to succeed, they need leaders who support and guide them to stay focused, especially when the stakes are high.
People who are resilient in the process of overcoming their own problems are more compassionate about the problems of others.
If your life has been without a wrinkle or you’ve grown up with a silver spoon in your mouth, you may have difficulty identifying with people who are struggling. People who have overcome challenges tend to be more aware of what it takes to live with limitations. They are more aware of the human condition, have bigger hearts and a greater capacity to give. To lead compassionately and courageously, doesn’t always come naturally. It requires the capacity to lean into discomfort. This means being comfortable with uncertainty and further, (and here’s the sticking point for both leaders and followers), demonstrating a willingness to be vulnerable.
Compassionate leaders live to help others and make no room for selfishness on the teams they lead.
Greed has no place to prosper when selfishness is not part of the program. These leaders live with an attitude of abundance and prefer to look at what team members need rather than at what team members aren’t doing. Compassionate leaders make no room for pessimism. They view challenges with interest rather than dread. This attitude sets the tone for team members and keeps morale high. For these leaders, success is less about riches or fame and more about having a deep and lasting positive impact on all who are served. The compassionate leader seeks to understand people, knowing that understanding is the doorway into having the greatest impact on guiding others.
Keep in mind that courage is not the absence of fear. The absence of fear is stupidity.
Effective leaders willingly and knowingly face their fears and help others do the same. That’s courage. People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. Model the behavior you expect in the people you serve. One of the characteristics of courage is the ability to face uncertain conditions and circumstances. Be prepared for every possibility and contingency, but also be receptive to the rapid flow of new information and changing conditions. See uncertainty as an opportunity to test and hone your skills, talents and abilities.
Step #4: Walk The Talk
Compassionate leaders are those who lead from within, those who have the ability to inspire others through encouragement and empowerment. When you treat people with compassion they never forget. You cultivate people who want to work for you not because of what you do but because of who you are.
Compassionate leaders are values based and authentic.
Followers find that they never have to question the motives of any leader decisions or behaviors, and followers would always know they are made with the greater good in mind, rather than some of the common self-serving leader behaviors known to be pervasive in corporate and traditional management cultures. Keep in mind: compassion is contagious. The more compassionate you are, the more compassionate your people will be. Great leaders comport themselves in ways they want their employees to imitate. And compassionate leaders model understanding, caring, and selflessness.
Healthy competition can enhance performance and drive people to greater heights. But greedy behaviors that come from unhealthy competition only poison the organization.
You are not in a struggle with your people to see who can accomplish more or receive the most praise. You are there to inspire them and to show that you are willing to put forth the same effort you are asking of them. Find ways to show your gratitude and promote the great work of your employees. Consider how the thinking and behavioral preferences of team members may help this feedback be even more meaningful. For example, if you want to highlight the work of a conceptual thinker, you may want to do so in an imaginative way while an analytical thinker will likely prefer an efficient, written message.
Compassionate leaders are good at identifying what feedback needs to be provided, and then delivering it in a way that is constructive and impactful, even if it is bad feedback, including being specific and giving examples.
Being a compassionate leader is about giving feedback that opens the recipient’s eyes up to the changes they need to make in order to improve. Importantly, a compassionate leader will also always explain to their employees that they are there to help them to get better and to give them the resources they need to succeed, while being clear on what improvements they expect to see. Compassionate leadership isn’t about being soft or a pushover. It’s about giving your team members advice to help them improve, even if it’s advice that they may not want to hear or is difficult to deliver.
Your employees, and the manner in which they are treated, are clear reflections of your company’s ethics and integrity.
“Walking the talk” includes your hiring, selection and leadership development practices and how you value your employees. As a business leader, you have inherent responsibility as a role model. You set the tone and image of your business by action and attitude — by your ability to “walk the talk” authentically and naturally. Employees look to their leaders’ example to define the organization’s culture. Well-trained leaders who walk the talk and embody the organization’s values will inspire respect and help to develop a culture of kindness and compassion.
Step #5: Positive Thinking
It’s important for leaders to be able to empower and motivate others. The best way to accomplish that is simply to be a genuinely positive person. When you can develop a positive mental attitude and be the kind of leader who always has something good to say, you make people feel comfortable around you and secure enough to tell you anything that needs to be said.
Leaders, who are achieving lasting success, are those leaders who possess a positive outlook on life.
To be an effective team leader it essential that you have a positive outlook on life. A positive attitude not only determines your level of contentment it also impacts how others interact with you. Success is not always the result of a high IQ or exceptional talent. Your attitude is always more important than your aptitude. A positive attitude is important because your attitude will determine your actions. A team leader cannot have a poor attitude and at the same time expect the team members to be positive. The positive attitude of a leader not only fuels the leader, but it also encourages the team to keep pressing on until they succeed. As a team leader, one of your goals should be to pass on your positive attitude to your team.
When it comes to the workplace, the leaders are the ones their employees look up to for inspiration and guidance.
In other words, leaders set the example and team members emulate their behavior and actions, but are you setting a positive example for them? Are your actions motivating them to rally around you and be a better version of themselves? I’m not saying that a positive attitude requires you to give an hour-long motivational speech to your employees every day, always carry a clownish smile on your face and think that attitude alone will carry the day. You don’t have to live a stereotype because that’s difficult to do and won’t work anyway. However, as a positive leader, you are supposed to remain hopeful and see the best in even the most difficult situations. You have to maintain your composure during tough times because if you panic then your behavior and actions can demoralize your team, even if you don’t intend to do so.
It is natural as leaders — whether a leader by title or a leader by nature — to recognize the need to metaphorically rally the troops in a time of crisis and share encouraging words.
Optimism breeds optimism. Speaking positively is beneficial to those we lead. The first step is to accept that our attitude is a choice. We must realize that our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes are 100% under our control, despite outward circumstances. Whether we choose to be miserable or content is totally up to us. Negative will attract more negative, and positive will attract positive. But, while the negative will propagate on its own; the positive will take nurturing in order to grow. Choose today to not let negativity win. Do not dwell on what has been. Use this moment to think of what could be, what is possible. Embrace what is good, right, and full of hope. And inspire others to do the same.
Great things come to those who remain positive regardless of what obstacles or fear they face.
Do you want positive results? Then do some positive thinking! Look at everything as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Look at every failure (and there will be some) as a chance to learn and perfect. It’s really just a matter of attitude isn’t it? Great leaders understand this and they provide strong, but nurturing direction to those they lead to do the same. How we respond to our world depends on the stories we tell ourselves. When you face adversity you can tell a positive story and then work to create a positive outcome. It’s always your state of mind and your thinking that produces how you feel and respond. When you see that the world has no power over you, you will lead more powerfully in the world.
Compassionate leaders bring their team members together to work as a functional unit. They lay the groundwork for their team to have the best chance of success, and then take great joy in sitting back and watching team members shine individually and collectively. These leaders have no problem taking the lead when the team is in danger and no problem stepping to the side to allow their team to experience the successes they have accomplished on their own.
Leading with compassion is foundational to who you are as a leader.
Although processes are important, compassionate leaders focus on people more than the processes. Remember, compassionate leaders seek influence, not authority. They don’t demand, they encourage. Compassionate leaders demonstrate hope. As you lead, continue to acknowledge and support the people around you to combine your collective efforts, strengths, skills, insights, passion, enthusiasm, and commitment to work together for the greater good.
Ultimately, the most effective leaders know that it’s perfectly possible to be compassionate, while also genuinely holding their team members to account for their performance, while making them feel that they are an important part of the team.
So, we can deduce that being a compassionate leader is far from being soft, as many presume. It is about doing all you can to help those in your team thrive and, ultimately, to reach their full potential. By leading with more compassion, you will lay the foundations for more creativity, problem solving and innovation to grow in your organization — which are all key to succeeding, both in today’s, but also in tomorrow’s, world of work.
Being a compassionate leader means building resilience, cultivating care, and re-orienting your people, and business towards a positive and prosperous future for all involved.
By communicating with empathy and leading with courage from the front, compassionate leadership means being able to gauge, respect, and acknowledge how your team is feeling and leading from there. In cultivating team spirit, empathizing, acknowledging, and taking time to listen to and understand your people, will open the door to meaningful, inspiring, and productive working relationships across all levels.
Leadership is about compassion. It’s about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.
Compassionate leaders know that it is all about looking beyond their pain to see the pain of others. It is not about guiding and supporting — it is about understanding the importance of individual strengths and weaknesses to overcome challenges and harness opportunities. Are you up for becoming a compassionate leader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.