When you hesitate to show compassion in your role as a leader

Do you feel comfortable to show compassion in your role as a leader?

If you’ve ever had a tough time in your career, you’ll know how much you yearn for compassion.  Perhaps you’ve had difficulties with a colleague or you’ve made a great howler of a mistake and are afraid of the consequences.  Perhaps you’ve had challenges at home – when someone you love has had an accident, been ill or died, for example, or when your marriage has been in trouble.  You’ll probably recognise times in your life when you have been in need of empathy and compassion – but did you get it from the boss?  In my experience, many people turn to their colleagues when they are in need of compassion in the workplace.
As a leader yourself, you may have hesitated to give empathy to your staff.  Sometimes, your judgement may have got in the way of your compassion (“What would make someone get upset about such a minor thing?”) or perhaps you fear the outcomes from showing compassion (“How can I show compassion for such a stupid mistake and still hold him accountable?”).  Roger Schwarz, in his recent article for the Harvard Business Review blog, entitled What Stops Leaders from Showing Compassion, outlines key reasons why leaders hold back.  Roger also shares a recent paper which tends to suggest that compassion creates positive outcomes in organisations.  The paper is entitled Compassion Revealed:  What We Know About Compassion At Work (And Where We Need To Know More) and it builds on a great deal of earlier work.
If you want to get geaky, follow up on this paper.  As much as anything, it has a long list of references including some of my own favourites (look for Boyatzis, Goleman and McKee).  But even if you don’t want to get geaky, I invite you to take a moment to reflect.  How comfortable do you feel to express your compassion for those you lead?  What supports you in expressing compassion?  And what, if anything, holds you back?  My own experience, from interviewing hundreds of men and women in leadership roles over the last twenty years, is that those who are most effective have a heart.  The respond with compassion to their staff in a wide range of situations and regardless of the rights of wrongs of a situation.  What’s more, they do so with skill.
I’d love to hear from you.  Yes, how comfortable do you feel about responding with compassion to those you lead?  But also, how confident do you feel that you have the skills you need to express your compassion in the workplace?  What support do you need to increase your ease and skill in responding with compassion to those you lead?

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