How to Be a Compassionate Leader When Your Company is Not

Employees who work under compassionate managers are 25% more engaged in their jobs, 20% more dedicated to the business, and 11% less likely to burn out. Too many companies, though, appear to have missed the memo. They still maintain tight hierarchies and treat their employees more like resources than people, requiring excessively long hours, pressing them for unachievable objectives, and treating them all the same, regardless of their individuality.

What can you do if you wish to lead your team with compassion but your bosses don’t share your viewpoint? These six tactics will assist you in becoming a compassionate leader, and they may even persuade some of your less compassionate coworkers that they can do better.

Work out your own robust, business-focused definition of compassion.

Compassion is the feeling you have when you observe someone else hurting or suffering in some manner and want to help them. Compassion is distinguished from empathy by a willingness to act and effect change. For example, you might be sympathetic if you feel awful because your team member’s current requirement to return to work is causing them personal pain, but you’ll be compassionate if you take measures to adjust their schedule so they can work more easily. It is the activity that determines the outcome.

Model self-awareness and self-regulation.

The standard is set by your actions. People notice how you adjust your position in response to fresh facts, how you handle pressure, and whether you’re bargaining on their behalf with another leader. They want to know if you’re willing and able to prioritize tasks or make difficult decisions, take responsibility for your actions, fix your mistakes, and ask for help or forgiveness when necessary. Even if this isn’t true for other departments, this is how you model appropriate behavior inside your group.

One manager became involved in an attempt to resolve a conflict between two team members. During the dispute, it became clear that she had upset one of them, so she conveyed her remorse, requested forgiveness, and outlined how she would strive to conduct herself in the future as part of the conversation. For months following, the offended teammate expressed his gratitude to his coworkers and stated that he had never previously worked with a leader who was prepared to own their own mistakes in that way, and his social behavior started to improve.

Recognize that you can never be everything to everyone.

Even if you strive to treat everyone with respect and curiosity, you will need to decide how to spend your limited time and energy. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself on the verge of burnout. So pick your priorities wisely and don’t overpromise. Making big public declarations or hanging posters with catchphrases about the things you want to do won’t help. Too many employees dismiss these messages as just another campaign we’ll have to wait out.

Instead, find out what is vital to your employees and make clear efforts to improve their working circumstances and boost group morale. As you progress, you might notice which aspects of your project are working better, and then move on to the next one. Don’t build false hopes. Instead, clarify things that are in your power to change. You won’t have all the solutions, won’t be able to alter everything about the company that troubles your team, and won’t be able to help them solve all their problems, so don’t build false hopes or expectations. And don’t expect everyone to appreciate your efforts. 

One manager, for example, devised a novel strategy that required no official approval or resources. When her team members were burned out by the demands of their jobs and the work atmosphere, she helped them each find a “passion project” that supported the team’s goals and then set aside time to accomplish it. Employees benefited from regular solo time for intensive work. They appreciated the learning opportunity about topics that attracted them, and a sense of personal accomplishment.

Deliver business results.

You won’t be able to take care of your team if your management believes you aren’t a successful leader. Know what your boss wants of you, and use every business tool and organizational resource at your disposal to ensure that your team is producing, otherwise, your compassion will be wasted. The more effective you deliver and demonstrate, the more organizational credibility you’ll have, and the more clout you’ll have to secure the support you need for your team.

If supplies aren’t provided, you may need to get creative with substitutions. Even if you don’t have the funding for training, you might be able to find podcasts or online courses on the subject that you can share with your employees to help them advance their knowledge. If you’re up against a tight deadline, work with your team to figure out who can devote more time right now and set up internal swaps to help them manage their time and participation.

Demonstrate the importance of accomplishment and accountability.

Compassion does not imply being kind or turning a blind eye to a problem. It demands a thorough grasp of the situation to make the most significant

business decision possible for all parties involved at the time. This may include holding employees accountable for unfinished work or inefficient behavior.

Maintain everyone’s dignity by giving them the benefit of the doubt, assisting them in regrouping and refocusing their efforts, and guiding them as needed. However, be explicit about your expectations and the repercussions if promises or targets are not completed. People will not like it if they perceive you treating different members of the team unfairly or acting as if you had personal favorites.

Support your people through awareness and advocacy.

Ask your group when there are priorities or hurdles to overcome. How can we support each other to get this done? What suggestions do you have on how we could make our best efforts? What is obstructing my progress that I need to address? Then take action to explore how you may have a positive impact on events. When you improve working conditions and take risks on their behalf, people will take your other efforts more seriously.  

A manager went to HR for support after hearing concerns from his team members that a vice president not in his immediate chain of command was upsetting members of his team and others by breaching business norms around job assignments and the treatment of subordinates. HR reviewed the issue and reprimanded the VP since the manager was willing to take a risk. Several employees who were considering leaving were persuaded by his campaign to stay with the organization during the review period. They saw him as someone to look up to and someone who could be trusted to solve situations.

A good leader is compassionate. It’s tricky to accomplish when the rest of the culture appears to be based on favoritism or indifference. You can make a difference for your staff and the company if you use these six techniques and choose your shots. Others from outside your area may eventually come to discover how you’ve achieved such success and learn from your efforts.

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