Understanding the Ripples of Compassion in Leadership

Understanding the Ripples of Compassion in Leadership

One of my challenges as a young leader was that I lacked compassion.  By the time I was in mid-management, I steadfastly relied on my skills of planning, working hard, and staying engaged with folks to move aggressively to achieve my goals.   To counter my outspoken nature in meetings, I favored email (coined as “velvet glove missives”) as a more tactful approach when required.  But when a member of my staff passed away, I realized my team needed a more compassionate leader fast.

At that moment, my staff didn’t need a show of appreciation or a pay raise.  They needed someone who could help them through their suffering and be patient and understanding.  Not being naturally compassionate, I had to cultivate compassion, as a learned skill, but most importantly, be authentic about it.

Being young, I had never truly considered what people needed… only what I needed or Senior Management demanded.  Neither of which sounds wrong, just shallow and short-sighted. Management is a two-way street.  For a team to function at its best, both sides of the equation need to feel valued, engaged, and supported.  Compassion is about understanding employees’ needs in the interest of the team.

The key to compassion is accepting what others may be feeling or experiencing and caring about how they feel. Not questioning it. Not judging it. Not justifying it. 

My view of the team changed from that day forward.  It affected our entire relationship as a department, but more so left a lasting impression on my management style.

But compassion is bigger than just one such incident.  Today, more than ever, individuals demand and expect this level of care from companies, and thus, company leadership, as part of their daily lives. As folks navigate busy schedules due to child care, family illness, or spouses that travel, they rely on compassionate leadership. Throughout the years, I cannot tell you how many times employees expressed genuine relief because “I was someone who actually cared.”  That sentiment says less about my ability than the ill reputation that most management garners.


The Value of Compassion

People remember compassion as a key attribute of their leaders with long-reaching effects, the ripples.  Besides the positive effect on employee turnover and level of effort, both employee satisfaction and level of engagement grow.  Tomorrow, when facing a tough deadline or unfavorable metrics, those same team members will strive for leaders who have supported them.  They follow their leaders to the next position/firm.  They support their leaders through senior management upheavals.  Overall, compassion strengthens intra-departmental dependence by prioritizing the good of the collective.

 The fact is we don’t live in a vacuum.  People don’t do things for people (or management), they do things for relationships. In a corporate world that can take place mostly online or remote, a human connection stands out. It represents one spoke of the manager-employee relationship and is the epitome of a civilized society.  Compassion is the measure of who we are, not just as leaders, but as people.

Below is an assessment from Harvard Business Review to determine your level of compassion (question #22 is my favorite).  Nosce te ipsum