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How to Be a Compassionate Leader

Topics: Career Advice
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Leaders face tremendous pressure. When you’re in charge, you’re often pulled in a multitude of conflicting directions. You have to answer to your own bosses, which may even include the board. And, you also have to attract and retain top talent.

When it comes to how to respond to employees, you probably started off with good intentions. But, as you move through the day-to-day, other pressures can make it hard to be as understanding as you might like to be. How can you find the right balance and become a compassionate leader in a way that benefits the business as well as individuals?

How Compassion helps you to be a more successful leader 

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First of all, working toward being a more compassionate leader and wanting to improve your company’s bottom line are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, they support each other. When you lead with kindness and empathy, your employees thrive. And that’s great for business.

Here are just a few specific ways that compassion helps you to be a more successful leader:

  • You’ll have your finger on the pulse. Do you want to develop a better understanding of your business? Well, a great place to start is by getting to know more about the folks who work there. Compassionate leaders know a lot about what’s going on with their team because they watch, listen and pay attention. When you know what’s up with your employees, you know what’s happening with your business.
  • It builds trust. Looking out for your own interests 24/7 actually holds you back in your career. Today’s workers too often feel like islands — existing in isolation and without the guidance or even the concern of higher-ups. But, amazing things happen when employees know that their leader is keeping their needs in mind. Your employees will feel more free to focus on the company’s goals when they trust that you’re looking out for theirs.
  • It’s less isolating. Being a leader isn’t always fun. It can be really isolating. But, compassionate leaders don’t struggle with this the way others might. You’ll feel more connected to those around you because of the compassion that keeps you tuning into them. This can ultimately help you to make better, more-informed decisions. And, it will help you to stay emotionally engaged at work, too.
  • Employees will be more active and involved. Have you ever held back your opinion at work because you were worried about how it would be received? This is a common workplace problem. It’s only natural to shrink back a bit when there’s a threat of criticism or rejection. Compassionate leaders, on the other hand, help the people around them to feel more confident and comfortable. Your employees will be more active and engaged when they feel safe around you. They’ll contribute their efforts and ideas more freely with a compassionate leader than they might otherwise.

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Tips for being a more compassionate leader

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1. Listen more

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” – Woodrow Wilson

Good leadership often involves quiet action. Great leaders don’t just share their ideas, they listen to, and ask for, the contributions of those around them. If you’re working toward being a more compassionate leader, making an effort to listen more and talk less isn’t a bad place to start. Try to get a sense for individual perspectives as well as the general consensus. Ask follow-up questions to get more information rather than rushing to a final decision.

There are lots of different ways to improve your listening skills, no matter how much you feel you’ve already mastered the ability.

2. Let your title speak for itself

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” – Mahatma Gandhi

You might feel the need to act the part in order to encourage others to believe in your leadership (and do what you need them to do). But, the thing about being the boss is that everyone knows you’re the boss whether you act like it or not. So, relax a little and allow your title to speak for itself.

Approach the people who work for you the same way you interact with the people you work for. Be respectful and show interest in them and what they’re doing. Be humble and ask questions as well as just answer them.

Allow your connections and your compassion to drive your leadership rather than your authority. And, don’t worry. Your team won’t forget your role or your power if you don’t remind them of it. Most will simply feel more comfortable around you. So, let your title — and your work — speak for itself. Focus on demonstrating compassion instead.

3. Slow down

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“Slow but steady wins the race” – Aesop

Leaders set the tone more than they might realize. If you’re running around feeling stressed and anxious, the folks that work for you will probably follow suit. So, if you want others to be patient and careful with their work, start by setting the example and remind yourself to slow down.

Also, it will be a lot easier for folks to reach out to you for support, or to share an idea, when you seem like you have time for them. You’ll be more approachable when you’re calm and open. Making the people around you feel that you have all the time in the world for them is a great way to demonstrate compassionate leadership.

Remember that, in the end, slowing down is actually a great way to speed things up. You’ll get more done if you can take it just one thing at a time and really be present.

4. Focus on empowering others

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

Too many leaders are overly focused on trying to prove themselves. But, you know what really makes people feel good about the person at the helm? Knowing that they’ll be able to turn the attention and praise toward someone else when they deserve it. Worrying that your boss might take all the credit with the higher-ups, on the other hand, is demoralizing. Compassionate leaders know that empowering others is the key to everyone’s success. They take a step back when needed and always give credit where and when it’s due.

If you’re working on compassionate leadership, delight in the accomplishments of the people that work with you. And, celebrate their successes and accomplishments reliably. Even when you had the idea, or you got the ball rolling, let go of the need for praise and acknowledgement. Always remember that we’re all in this together. Everyone wins when you empower your team.

5. Don’t micromanage

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

One of the hardest things about being a leader is learning how to properly relinquish some of the control. It’s not at all compassionate to hover over your employees and micromanage their tasks and projects. In fact, doing so will almost certainly backfire, causing you even bigger problems than you were attempting to solve. Micromanagement kills creativity, motivation and job satisfaction. Compassionate leaders know better. So, take a big step back and allow others to do the jobs you hired them to do. There are better ways to motivate and to lead.

6. Model the positive behaviors you want to see

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“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Compassionate leaders understand that the best way to encourage certain traits in others is to foster those traits within themselves. For example, if you want your employees to be enthusiastic lifelong learners, be sure to be one yourself! Take classes to improve your skills. Or, talk about books you’re reading, for example. Instead of simply telling others what you think they should do, model those positive behaviors yourself. You just might be surprised by how quickly it impacts the company culture.

7. Be a leader not a manager

“You manage things; you lead people.” – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

There are so many different ways to approach the task of leadership. One of the keys, no matter your industry or business, is to always remember to lead people, not manage them. Tasks and projects are meant to be managed. But people should be led. Compassionate leaders know and appreciate the difference.

If you want to be more compassionate with folks at work, focus on being a leader rather than a manager. For example, seek to inspire trust rather than control others by your authority. Build a shared vision with your team rather than attempting to force everyone to work solely toward your agenda.

When in doubt, ask yourself how you would want to be treated in their shoes and let that guide you. Compassionate leaders know how to see things from their employees’ perspective. And, they often reap some pretty excellent rewards as a result.

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