To be a compassionate leader is to be a good leader. This can be difficult to do when the rest of the company culture seems to be based on favoritism or neglect. What can you do if you want to manage your team with compassion, but your leadership has not embraced this philosophy? The author outlines six strategies that will help you be a compassionate leader in a less than ideal environment. You can make a difference for your people and for the company, and possibly others outside your region can come to see how you have done so well and learn from your actions.
Studies show that employees who work for compassionate managers are 25% more engaged in their work, 20% more committed to the organization, and 11% less likely to burn out. But too many organizations seem not to have received the memo yet. They still have rigid hierarchies and treat their employees more like resources than humans, demanding inordinately long hours, pressuring people for unrealistic results, and treating them as if they’re all exactly the same, disregarding of their individuality.
What can you do if you want to manage your team with compassion, but your leadership has not embraced this philosophy? These six strategies will help you be a compassionate leader and might even convince some of your less compassionate colleagues that they can do better.
Craft your own strong, business-focused definition of compassion.
Some aspects of compassion fall under what are sometimes called “soft” skills, but a more appropriate descriptor is “activist.” A good working definition is that compassion is the feeling you get when you see someone else struggling or suffering in some way and you feel the desire to take action to help alleviate that suffering.
It is this desire to act and create change that differentiates compassion from empathy. For example, you might show empathy if you feel bad because the current requirement to return to work is creating personal hardship for your team member, but you show compassion if you are taking steps to change the situation. schedule so that he can work more comfortably. It’s the action that makes the difference.
Model of self-awareness and self-regulation.
Your behavior sets the bar. People notice how you change positions when you receive new information, how you handle pressure, and whether you negotiate with another leader on their behalf. They look at whether you are willing and able to sort out priorities or make difficult decisions, as well as taking responsibility, fixing your own mistakes, and asking for help or forgiveness when needed. This is how you model appropriate behavior within your group, even if it is not true for other departments.
A client of mine got involved trying to help resolve a dispute between two team members. During the conflict, it became clear that she had offended one of them, and as part of the discussion, she expressed regret, asked for forgiveness, and explained how she would try to conduct herself in the future. For months afterwards, the offended teammate expressed his gratitude to his colleagues and acknowledged that he had never worked with a leader who would be willing to face his own mistakes like this, and his interpersonal behavior began to s ‘improve.
Recognize that you can never be everything to everyone.
Even if you try to treat everyone with kindness and concern, you will still have to make choices about where to invest your precious time and energy. Otherwise, you’re heading straight into burnout territory. So choose your priorities carefully and without too much promise. There’s no point in making big public announcements or hanging banners with mottos about the things you intend to do. I’ve interviewed too many employees who dismissively label these communications “flavor of the month” or “just another campaign we’ll have to wait for.”
Instead, learn from your employees what matters to their well-being and take specific actions to improve their conditions and boost group morale. As you start to progress, you can start pointing out the things that work best and then start tackling the next area of interest. You won’t have all the answers, you won’t be able to change everything about the organization that’s bothering your team, or help them solve all of their problems, so don’t create false hopes or false expectations – explain what things are within your control to change . And don’t expect everyone to be grateful to you for what you do or the effort you put in on their behalf. It’s not their job to like you, but resilience, longevity and esprit de corps are likely to increase.
For example, a manager offered a creative bet that didn’t require any official permissions or resources. When her employees felt drained by the challenges of the job and the organizational environment, she helped them each identify a “passion project” that supported the team’s goals, then set aside implementation time. Employees enjoyed scheduled time off for deep work, an opportunity to learn things that mattered to them, and a sense of personal commitment and accomplishment.
Deliver business results.
If your management feels that you are not a confident and effective leader, you will not be able to continue to take care of your team. Know what your management expects of you and use all the business tools and organizational support you have to ensure your team produces, or whatever your compassion. The more you deliver and demonstrate efficiency, the more organizational credibility you will develop and, therefore, the more influence you will have in obtaining the support you need for your team.
You may need to be creative in replacing resources if they are not provided. For example, even if you don’t get the training budget you need, you might be able to find podcasts or online tutorials on the subject that you can share with your team to advance their knowledge. If you’re facing a difficult and difficult deadline, actively work with your team to figure out who can commit more time now and set up internal exchanges to help them manage time and attendance.
Demonstrate the importance of achievement and responsibility.
Compassion isn’t about being “nice” or looking away when there’s a problem or someone isn’t up to it. This requires a thorough understanding of the situation so you can make the best business decision for all parties at the time, which sometimes means employees need to be reprimanded for work they haven’t completed or a ineffective behavior.
Certainly, preserve everyone’s dignity by giving them the benefit of the doubt, helping them to regroup and refocus, and by guiding their efforts if necessary. But make it clear what your expectations are and what the consequences will be if commitments or goals are not met. People won’t feel good if they see you behaving unfairly towards different team members or acting like you have personal favorites.
Support your people through awareness raising and advocacy.
When there are priorities to set or challenges to overcome, open the conversation to the group: “How can we support each other to achieve this? What ideas do you have for how we could do our best thoughtful efforts? What is bothering me and what do I need to fix? And then take action and see how you can influence events in a beneficial way. When your employees see that you are not just blowing smoke, but actively representing their interests to others, investing time and energy to change their working conditions and taking risks on their behalf, they will take your other endeavors more seriously and engage more deeply.
After hearing the concerns of his team members, a manager I coached approached HR for backup because a VP not in his direct chain of command was inconveniencing his team members and others by violating company standards regarding work assignments and the treatment of subordinates. Since the manager was willing to bend over backwards, HR looked into the situation and disciplined the VP. His advocacy convinced several staff who were considering leaving to stay with the company for the time it took to conduct the review. They thought he was someone who could be trusted to handle problems and someone to look up to.
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To be a compassionate leader is to be a good leader. This can be difficult to do when the rest of the culture seems to rely on favoritism or neglect. But if you apply these six strategies and choose your shots, you can make a difference for your employees and for the company. And possibly other people outside of your area can come see how you have done so well and learn from your actions.