Kindness and compassion in the workplace aren’t things which many leaders pay much attention to. But it turns out that they’re much more important than we thought. In fact, they’re critical, and the reasons why might surprise you.
We all know people who are naturally compassionate. They are kind, caring, thoughtful and considerate. Great to be around, they make wonderful work colleagues. As leaders and managers, they create a climate of inclusion and support and people are happy to work for them.
Compassion is driven by self-awareness, awareness of others, self-regard and regard for others. How we handle these four things within ourselves fundamentally affects the way we manage our relationships with other people. Interestingly, these are all elements of Emotional Intelligence (EI).
The connection between compassion, Emotional Intelligence and leadership is well established and noted particularly in the work of David Boyatzis with his concept of Resonant Leadership where he considers mindfulness, hope and compassion as being the route map for effective leadership1,2,3,4. Compassionate leaders create compassionate organisations. But why is this important? It has to do with what followers want from their leaders.
What do followers want?
Gallup asked more than ten thousand followers what they wanted from their leaders5,6,7. If you’re a leader, you really need to pay attention now because research shows that the most effective leaders understand their followers’ needs. If your personal leadership style doesn’t create a climate of the following four attributes, then you’re not giving your followers (or potential followers) what they want and need from you. This will undoubtedly affect their engagement and performance.
In priority order:
- Followers want to feel that they can TRUST you. Trust is the number 1 output of an emotionally intelligent and authentic leadership style.
- COMPASSION. If your staff and colleagues don’t feel that you truly care about them, you’re not going to get the best out of them. Worse, they may end up not caring very much about you, or your objectives, either.
- It turns out that followers need STABILITY. Even in times of uncertainty or change, you can create a ‘safe space’ for your team by making sure that your leadership style engenders these other 3 elements of Trust, Compassion and…
- HOPE. As a leader, you set the tone. The climate you create within your part of your organisation
So where does ‘tough-love’ fit in?
There is a certain kind of leader who isn’t kind or compassionate towards themselves8. Leaders who practice ‘tough-love’ on themselves say that it makes them feel stronger and more responsible. Research has identified that they associate self-compassion with weakness which they think will hinder their ability to achieve results or be successful. And it’s true, some people do respond to a tough love approach; after all, it forms the basis of many performance management systems, and its conditional nature can make some people work harder.
There are however some significant drawbacks to a tough-love leadership style9:
- Not everyone responds well to this style
- With some people, a leader may create the opposite effect; leading to disengagement and demotivation
- Worst-case-scenario, you could find yourself in front of a tribunal for bullying
- If a leader isn’t kind to themselves then they are very unlikely to be kind to other people either. Is this lack of self-regard and regard for others the most emotionally intelligent approach for a leader to take, even if it works in the short-term?
Tips for leading with kindness and compassion10
- Realise that kindness is a strength and not a weakness. This is true for both self-compassion and kindness towards others.
- Remember that your followers want you to be kind! It’s really important to them that you are caring and considerate towards them.
- Know that small acts of kindness are amplified in terms of increasing your own well-being and the well-being and engagement of others.
- ‘Practice makes perfect’ as the saying goes. Start with small acts of kindness and they will become easier to do the more often you do them.
- Understand that as a leader, you’re a role model for others and you create the climate. So be your best self and kindness will come easily.
- The 3 Virtues of Great Leadership. Rasmus Hougaard & Jacqueline Carter. Management Today online, 11 April 2018
- Strengths Based Leadership: Great leaders, teams & why people follow. Tom Rath & Barny Couchie, (2013). Gallup Press
- Follower’s 4 basic needs news.gallup.com/businessjournal/113542/what-followers-want-from-leaders.aspx
- Gallup Engagement Survey, (2017) http://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/232373/effective-leader-times-change.aspx?g_source=link_NEWSV9&g_medium=TOPIC&g_campaign=item_&g_content=How%2520to%2520Be%2520an%2520Effective%2520Leader%2520in%2520Times%2520of%2520Change
- No, being kind to yourself does not make you weak or immodest. Christian Jarrett, BPS Research Digest online, 27 May 2016. https://digest.bps.org.uk/2016/05/27/no-being-kind-to-yourself-does-not-make-you-weak-or-immodest/
- Divided by Gender, United by Chocolate: Differences in the Boardroom. Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones, (2016). Blue Ocean Publishing
- Love Is The Answer. Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones, (2017). Blue Ocean Publishing
3 Ways to Turn Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion. Michelle McQuaid, Psychology Today (Blog post), 26 April 2016
Twelve steps to a compassionate life. K. Armstrong, (2011). Random House
Developing self-compassion in leadership development coaching: A practice model and case study analysis. Karol M. Wasylyshyn & Frank Masterpasqua, (2018), International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 13, No. 1