In everything TRIBAL does, in everything we write, we note the importance of compassion in the workplace. We are not alone…
“A study by HBR found that employees who feel ‘love’ at work – identified here as the ability for employees to express care, compassion, tenderness and affection towards one another within the context of work – performed considerably better than employees who weren’t able to build those kinds of relationships with co-workers.”
Increasingly, research indicates enterprises that feature compassion as a foundational element of their business culture are more likely to experience success. Compassion should be modeled top down by leaders, and should also occur inside out in a modern, successful enterprise. In this two-part series, we’ll cover exactly why compassionate leadership is so vital, examples of leaders we think are exceptionally compassionate, and resources we love that illustrate the importance of compassionate work.
What does it mean to be compassionate?
Unfortunately, many business leaders feel ‘compassion’ is, as a trait, at odds with ideal leadership. Around 80% of business leaders think being compassionate means “being nice or soft” or “loving everyone.”
Recently, a definition of compassion as “empathy in action” has made an effort to counter those assumptions.
You don’t need to be infallibly soft or loving towards someone you feel compassion for. You just have to be able to empathize with your people, to understand their position as much as you understand your own.
Granted, that’s a tall order. But study after study shows that compassionate leaders are outpacing less empathetic leaders by huge margins – and compassionate companies are benefiting as a result.
Why today’s workers need compassionate leaders
We’ve beat the drum tirelessly about the plights of US workers today, and we won’t needlessly retread that ground here. Suffice to say, employees today are struggling. The US currently ranks as the most overworked developed nation in the world (US workers put in 137 more hours per year than workers in Japan, another culture famous for overwork), and 64% of Americans feel stressed at work.
For leaders, those statistics should set off alarm bells. On a statistical level, workplace stress costs enterprises billions of dollars in productivity and turnover. On a human level, these are your people. You shouldn’t want them to suffer.
Compassionate leadership is the ideal medicine for most of the cultural woes plaguing workers today. Researched benefits of compassionate leadership include increased employee job satisfaction, engagement, performance, and reduced stress.
Compassionate leadership is essentially a high-reward, no-risk investment for leaders. While it requires more effort than ‘standard’ leadership practices, the return on investment compassionate leaders experience overcompensates for time lost in spades (see part two for examples of compassionate leadership and its ROI in action).
What compassionate leadership looks like in the workplace
Here’s a scenario:
You just hired an entry-level employee fresh out of college as a personal assistant. They come with you to an important client meeting. You plug in the USB that has today’s crucial, deal-closing two-part PowerPoint on it – only to discover the new employee forgot to download the second part.
You wing the second-half of the meeting and seal the deal with your prospects, but just barely.
What does your conversation with the new employee look like afterward?
In a traditional workplace, a scolding is probably in order. Chew out the new employee a little bit, ‘make sure’ they won’t make the same mistake again.
But is that compassionate leadership?
Put yourself in the employee’s shoes for a second. They’re new. They’re probably incredibly nervous. Undoubtedly, they already feel horrible about failing to download the second part of that PowerPoint. Any dressing-down you give won’t come close to the scolding your employee has already given themself.
So what would scolding your employee do? Make them fear you as a leader? Sure. Make them even more stressed out next time you give them an important task? Probably. Make them doubt their abilities? Undoubtedly. Make them a better employee?
What would make them a better employee? Letting them know you understand. Letting them know you’re sure they’ll do better next time. Letting them know that you were an entry-level employee once who, let’s face it, also screwed up plenty of times.
On a fundamental level, compassionate leadership doesn’t ask much of leaders – it just requires some empathy and altruism. With a little humanity and attention to detail, creating compassionate workplaces is a perhaps surprisingly simple process.
Of course, leaders can’t be there every time an employee fails at something to make it a compassionate learning experience. To truly see the effects of compassionate leadership, you need to focus on not only leading compassionately but also creating an overall culture of compassion in your workplace. Your employees should handle missteps or stressful situations just as compassionately as you do.
For that to happen, your employees need to develop authentic relationships with one another. They need to feel comfortable around each other and be capable of expressing their needs to one another. If you create a compassionate workplace, you decentralize the leadership burdenand help your employees feel just as invested in their wellbeing as you are. Recognizing this need for compassionate cultures in modern workplaces is why we created TRIBAL – to help create a sense of family at work.
How to increase your compassion
One of the best aspects of compassion is that it’s a learned skill. Like a muscle, compassion can – and should – be exercised and strengthened. Here are just a few ways to improve your capacity for compassion:
- Meditate daily. Even ten minutes of daily meditation can increase the ‘boundaries’ of your compassion.
- Take a moment when you’re angry. Finding a moment to collect yourself and contextualize situations from different perspectives helps prevent outbursts.
- Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. This allows you to practice altruistic empathy.
- Be forgiving. Forgiveness doesn’t just lower your stress – it also reduces the stress of the individual you forgive. A workplace where leaders are unafraid to forgive employees is a compassionate workplace.
- Be vulnerable and open. Don’t be afraid to show employees your ‘human side.’
- Open up a dialogue with employees. Take their input seriously. Put their ideas on the same pedestal you put your own.
- Take risks. One of the great aspects of compassionate workplaces is they provide safety nets for employees – and leaders. Take advantage of that safety net and take risks openly (as long as they’re justified and everyone’s on board, of course).
Compassion leadership isn’t some fad – it’s the future of effective leadership in the workplace. In part two of this series, we’ll be showcasing some of our favorite compassionate leaders – stay tuned!
What Is Tribal?
TRIBAL is a relationship and community building platform that helps leaders build strong, inspired teams.
TRIBAL uses strategic storytelling to enable and enhance meaningful relationships across all levels of your organization. By leveraging the inherent tribal nature and impactful stories your organization has, TRIBAL helps leaders shape a meaningful culture from the top down and bottom up. Studies show that a meaningful workplace leads to inspired employees who outperform all others.