“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” – Jim Ron
Historically, leadership has been held synonymous with emotional detachment, and the ability to take dispassionate decisions has, for long, been recognized as the true hallmark of a successful business leader. However, the changing employment landscape is slowly chipping away at the head-in heart-out precept of leadership and making compassion the centerpiece of management focus.
The rise of Compassionate Leadership
Much credit for the popularity of compassionate leadership goes to the new-age leaders like LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Salesforce CEO March Benioff. In his book, Compassionate Capitalism, Benioff talks about philanthropy and how it can be absorbed into the cultural fabric of a corporation.
Similarly, Jeff Weiner – a strong advocate of compassionate leadership – has adopted compassion as the core value at his organization. In his blog, Managing Compassionately, he has professed his endeavor to “expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion,” and how he constantly strives to live up to his aspirations of being a compassionate leader.
Benioff’s and Weiner’s compassion-driven leadership style is highly inspirational, too. According to Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Awards, both the CEOs received a whopping 97% approval rating from their employees, making them America’s most-loved CEOs. This fact is especially significant for tech industry, where the war for talent has reached epic proportions. In an era where employees are spoilt for choices and companies are going out of their way to retain the top talent, compassionate leadership style could be a game-changer.
Compassion breeds innovation
Compassionate leadership style promotes trust among employees and fosters a culture of experimentation in the organization. In such an environment, the employees are less worried about making mistakes and more willing to put forward fresh ideas. Research corroborates that the most innovative companies are driven by leaders who demonstrate compassion, and allow room for risk-taking and mistakes.
Compassion with discernment equals success
A common misgiving about the emotionally intelligent and compassionate leadership is that it is not assertive, and hence not effective. This apprehension was tackled by Wharton Professor Adam Grant in his best-selling book, Give and Take, in which he has substantiated through extensive research that the people who care for their colleagues (Givers) – are over represented at the top of the success ladder compared to the self-centered ones (Takers). It is not hard to see why! Givers, being more empathetic and personable towards others, naturally enjoy more influence than the inward-looking Takers.
However, Grant says that the major difference between successful and unsuccessful Givers boils down to strategy. When Givers learn strategies to prevent others from taking advantage of them, their likeability becomes a propelling force and elevates their career prospects.
Compassionate Leadership is good for business
The leadership style has a bearing upon the fortunes of an organisation. In the best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins describes how some organisations progress from being ‘good’ companies to ‘great’ companies, whereas others fade away. He links an organisation’s journey to greatness to its leadership style and chronicles how a compassionate leader can bring about this feat.
The Level 5 Leadership
While researching the leadership styles of various organisations, Collins found that the organisations that made the most successful transitions were led by what he calls ‘Level 5 Leaders’, who have the seemingly contradictory qualities of “great ambition” and “personal humility”. Collins observed that the focus of Level 5 Leaders’ ambition is not themselves but the greater good of the organisation. Such leaders enjoy a high degree of trust among their employees; are able to inspire them, and hence, enjoy the bottom-up support needed to be successful.
Characteristics of a compassionate leader
Leads by example: True leaders lead by example. They are able to nurture relationships, through small actions that build trust and confidence.
Transparency: They engage in transparent dealings and communication with the employees, which helps the employees align in a better way with the company’s vision.
Flexibility: A compassionate leader is capable of putting aside the rulebook and taking decisions on grounds of humanity.
Compassion is a trainable trait
While many people have compassion as an innate characteristic, studies suggest that it is a trainable behavior and can be developed over time with practice, coaching and introspection. The Dalai Lama sums it up the best when he says, “Every human being has the same potential for compassion; the only question is whether we really take any care of that potential, and develop and implement it in our daily life.”