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There are many people out there who subscribe to the ‘passionate leadership’ school of management – that having a strong zeal for what you do is crucial if you want to be successful. While passion is certainly a key component for anyone seeking satisfaction at work, when it comes to leadership, it is also beneficial to add a simple prefix to the word and concentrate just as much on ‘com-passion’ as you do on ‘passion’.

Leadership is primarily about managing people, not businesses[1]. If you are in charge of a project, you will inevitably need to rely heavily on the people working on it to help you deliver a successful outcome. No amount of money or inanimate resources thrown at a task will make it work if the person leading things doesn’t have the trust and co-operation of their human resources – or people. So, how does a leader engage and inspire people to get the job done and pull together as a team?

Building relationships is the bedrock of all human existence, both at work and in our personal lives. Most, if not all, of us spend the vast majority of our working days interacting with others – giving and receiving instructions, negotiating relationships, smoothing out problems and building mutual trust and support. A good leader needs to understand these intangible aspects, from communications and engagement to influence and respect[2]. In other words, they need to be a compassionate leader who understands, nurtures and respects the needs, ambitions and emotions of their people.

The good news is that there are several areas within the realm of compassionate leadership that can be taught and honed to deepen trust, improve working relationships and increase productivity at work. Here are three to get you started.

Are you listening? Really listening?

Unlike reading and writing, we tend not to be actively taught how to listen and so, the skill is often underrated. There is a huge difference between actively ‘listening’ and just ‘hearing’ what someone is saying. When you listen properly, you take in not only the words that are being used, but the tone, body language, mood and facial expressions that accompany them[1]. This obviously gives you a much clearer picture of what is going on and helps you work out what the person really wants or feels, sometimes despite what they are saying, and how you can interact with them to gain a happier outcome for all.

Next time someone is trying to talk to you, really concentrate on what they are trying to convey. Give them your full attention and observe the accompanying clues around their words. Try not to say too much yourself until the person has stopped speaking and has asked for your response. This approach has two advantages. Not only do you get the fuller picture already described, but the other person will feel more respected and like you are genuinely interested in their input – which in turn builds trust and mutual understanding.

Ask open questions if you need further details or clarification and use positive gestures such as nodding or smiling (if appropriate) to encourage the person to open up and feel confident in what they are telling you.

How can you empower others?

Compassionate leaders take pride and joy in their team’s accomplishments as well as, or even ahead of their own. Studies[1] have shown that employees who feel empowered at work tend to perform better, feel greater job satisfaction and demonstrate higher levels of commitment to the company. While it might initially seem counterintuitive to relinquish some of the power of leadership to others in your team, it can, in fact, strengthen your own management position. By building up the skills and confidence of the whole team, you can help everyone to perform better, and achieve the results you need to demonstrate leadership competency.

‘No man is an island’[2], and a compassionate leader recognises that we all need to rely on each other and support each other for the greater good. So, encourage people to come to you with ideas and help them implement the effective ones. Sing your team’s praises when they are due and handle performance reviews and problematic issues with tact, understanding and a positive approach (focus on how to fix the problem, rather than apportioning blame).



Why is it so important to embrace our differences?

The fact that people are all different is what makes the world such a fascinating place to live. Imagine if we were all the same? Differences in the workplace in particular can be a real asset, as they come with all kinds of ways of thinking, talents and backgrounds. When team members understand that and can start to build up some genuine rapport with each other, this can increase productivity by reducing needless distractions, negative emotions and avoiding conflict within the team.

People in your team have all reached where they are today via many different paths and they will have all experienced diverse situations and influences along the way. A compassionate leader should take all of these experiences into account and use them to get to know their team members better. Handling issues such as cultural diversity within a team can strengthen it if dealt with appropriately, or alternatively, break it apart[1].

For example, Western working patterns can differ greatly from Middle Eastern or Asian approaches, with vastly varying start and finish times etiquette around greetings and communications, mobile phone usage, dress code etc. Handled badly, conflicting expectations of people from different backgrounds can foster resentment.

Start by finding some common ground and areas of mutual agreement and go from there. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about areas of contention and bring people together to discuss their concerns, perhaps with a neutral third party to help arbitrate. Compromise can be a powerful tool to help you establish working arrangements and expectations that can be embraced, or at least tolerated by the entire team.

Compassionate leadership in a nutshell

The three areas discussed above are by no means a comprehensive recipe for how to become a compassionate leader. The term covers a huge range of so-called ‘soft skills’, mind-sets and approaches that steer a person away from solely focussing on processes, operations and personal ambitions and more towards working with and on behalf of the people in their team to get the best out of everyone – themselves included.

This article is the first in a series considering what it takes to be a successful, compassionate leader. In the coming months, we will be taking a closer look at such topics as authenticity, vision, collaboration and taking ownership of your own brand of leadership. Come back soon to find out more or, if you are interested in taking your leadership skills to the next level, speak to Gayle about the training options currently available.


[1] Source: ‘Resilient Leadership: beyond myths and misunderstandings’, by Karsten Drath, 2017, p203

[2] Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, p 95

[3] Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/05/20/6-effective-ways-listening-can-make-you-a-better-leader/#2aa9efca1756

[4] Source: https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0022676

[5] Source: Quote taken from a sermon by the 17th-century English author, John Donne

[6] Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, pp 1-4

Post Author: Gayle Young

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