As an occupational psychologist who specialises in developing compassion in the workplace, I am often asked by senior staff in organisations what it means to be a compassionate leader? Managers and system leads often worry that developing a compassionate leadership approach may give the impression of weakness or indulgence in terms of their team’s performance. However, the research and many years of working with senior leaders to enhance their compassionate leadership skills, in fact suggests the opposite.
What does acting with compassion look like in a workplace setting?
It means we notice the challenges someone is facing, we listen non-judgementally to their difficulties, we offer empathy and understanding and then look for opportunities to assist or help to overcome their obstacles.
By showing compassion we purposefully turn towards someone’s pain and try to alleviate it. This act takes immense courage, strength and fortitude on the part of the leader, because let’s face it, most people want to run as far away as possible from real difficulty and distress rather than actively seek to listen, support and act.
When your organisation is introducing new processes or technology, taking a compassionate approach as a leader is a recognised mechanism to enable staff to overcome their natural resistance to change. Ensuring that staff know they can approach their leader with their genuine concerns about the impact of change on their working lives, knowing they will be heard, respected and offered thoughtful assistance is critical in today’s ever evolving world of work. New technology and transformational change are constant in the health and social care sector and, to be successful in our endeavours, we need our leaders to enact compassion in all their interactions. This way, they will not only encourage staff to adopt and embrace new technologies, but they will be instrumental in building a compassionate and, therefore, more productive organisational culture.
Compassionate leaders, who have developed a self-compassionate practice of their own and have learnt to tolerate their own distress, are better able to tune in to the struggles they encounter at work and meet them with kindness and composure. They are better able to reflect, be present and provide psychological safety for those who come to them with their challenges, without fear of reprisal, blame or harsh criticism. They only want their staff or colleagues to succeed which in turn enhances effectiveness and performance of the team and individual.
In fact, compassionate leaders are renowned for their advanced emotional intelligence and people management skills which place them at the forefront in terms of delivering competitive advantage in the workplace.
Start by asking yourself some key questions to develop a compassionate leadership approach:
If you can positively answer these questions, you are well on your way to enacting compassionate leadership. If not yet, remember that we are all works in progress and that we create change with one effective interaction at a time.
Dr Amanda Super is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Follow her on Twitter @DrAmandaSuper, where she regularly posts about developing compassion in the workplace.