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Compassionate Leadership at Work Benefits Both Clients and Employees

Compassion is perhaps not the first item on the agenda when we think about the qualities that a great business leader should have, but I would argue that it should be. But don’t just take my word for it, Meysam Poorkavoos of The Roffey Park Institute conducted some research into Compassionate Leadership and found that:

  • Compassionate leadership benefits clients, employees and the organisation (Frost et al., 2000; Goetz et al., 2010; Lilius et al., 2011).
  • Compassionate leadership sustains the sufferer through the grieving process and facilitates faster recovery (Lilius et al., 2011).
  • Compassionate leadership improves employee engagement and retention (Fryer, 2013; Lilius et al., 2011).

Compassionate leadership enables people to experience positive emotions which:

  • Boosts productivity.
  • Lowers heart rate and blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.
  • Results in positive customer service.

We live in a more balanced and, dare I say, more enlightened time where Compassion isn’t just seen as “fluffy stuff” and where challenge is highly prized. Compassion is often misunderstood or mixed up with sympathy and empathy, but it’s much more than that.

The graphic below shows the difference between each of these.

Compassionate Leadership Article_Future Proof LearningWhat sets compassion apart isn’t just the ability to feel sorry for someone, but to be supportive and willing to take action to help someone when they need it. Compassion (and Compassionate Leadership) is about understanding and support in equal measure, which enables us to work and feel at our best. If that doesn’t sound like a great leader, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who doesn’t support me when I need it.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Compassionate Leader, sign up for our Compassionate Leadership webinar here (10:00-11:00 am) on Tuesday 18th July.

So How Can I Start Practising Compassionate Leadership?

That’s a good question and, as with all of our work, we’ve found several ways to put the topic into practice. As leaders, managers and colleagues, we have opportunities every day to nurture the people we work with and to make them feel valued and cared for. Considering the question, “What does this mean for me?” is a great place to start practising compassionate leadership.

We can do that through a three-stage process that we’ve called the Three Res:

  • Recalibrate Expectations
  • Re-establish Commitment
  • Rebuild Capacity

Recalibrate Expectations

Much of what we “know” about someone’s expectations, their needs, their wants, their feelings comes from assumptions that we make and this often leads us to suggest action or offer support that is misplaced or misjudged. A more compassionate and mature approach would simply be to ask someone how they feel about their issue, and to listen attentively to their response before diving in to try and fix it.

Offering solutions before we’ve understood the problem is a classic pitfall for many leaders and managers. This is particularly true for consultants and coaches and is something that we at Future Proof Learning try very hard to overcome. Compassion is about understanding and a willingness to support, so when we’ve had a chance to listen and understand their needs, then we are in a position to offer support.

Re-establish Commitment

If we want people to feel supported, valued and to continue performing at a high level, the onus is on us as leaders to show that we are just as committed to our colleagues as they are to us.

I would hope that the days of leaders pretending (let’s be honest: they were just pretending) to be perfect are long-gone and we can now afford to be more vulnerable and share our own experiences, mistakes or worries.

This level of vulnerability requires someone to make the first move and, as leaders, that should really be us. How can we expect people to open up and commit if we’re not able to do it ourselves? Nobody is perfect, and nobody believes in perfection anyway, so take a bit of a risk, be bold and make the first move. Like Brené Brown says, there is ‘courage in vulnerability’.

Rebuild Capacity

We each carry around a lot of ‘stuff’: unfinished or unproductive projects, unfulfilling relationships, and unhelpful thoughts. This might not sound like much, but it’s more than enough to take up our headspace and to cloud our judgement at times. The way to overcome this and to rebuild our (and others’) capacity is by letting go of the things that no longer serve us, that drain our time and energy and invest time and effort into the things and people that energise us.

No surprises here, but one of the best ways to rebuild the capacity of those we work with is by investing time and energy in their development, making sure they have the skills and abilities that they need to tackle the challenges ahead. Another way to do this is by helping people develop support networks, introducing new thinking and different approaches. The more connected we are to others, the more supported we feel.

Compassionate leadership isn’t just a buzzword—it’s the backbone of thriving, productive teams. To be a compassionate leader, we must recalibrate our expectations, stripping away assumptions to truly understand the needs of our team. We also have to re-establish commitment, embracing vulnerability and authenticity to foster trust and mutual respect.

Finally, we need to rebuild capacity, letting go of unproductive burdens and focusing on developing the skills and abilities that empower us and those around us. By embracing these principles, we can all become the compassionate leaders that today’s world urgently needs.

If you’d like to learn more about how to become a more Compassionate Leader, sign up for our Compassionate Leadership webinar here and join us from 10:00-11:00 am on Tuesday 18th July.

You can see more on leading with compassion at work here. You can also find out more by signing up for our ThinkTank newsletter below or following us on LinkedIn.