Joanne Trotta
Managing Partner & Founder
LeadersEdge Inc.

By Joanne Trotta, Managing Partner & Founder of LeadersEdge Inc.

You are smart, agile and an excellent strategist. You can see the big picture and are a visionary who is also decisive and can build an effective action plan. These are all terrific qualities and, in my opinion, these attributes and others like them only get you halfway to your goal of becoming an excellent leader.

The abilities that are most often associated with great leadership—intelligence, vision, decisiveness and others—come from the head. They allow leaders to guide their people to perform at a high level, increase profits and make an organization look good on paper.

As a leader, it’s likely that you already excel when it comes to the qualities and attributes that come from the head. If you want to improve your leadership abilities and take your performance to the next level, it’s time to focus on the types of leadership qualities that come from the heart. Attributes like emotional intelligence (EQ), self-awareness and mindfulness are essential to excellent, holistic leadership and so is compassion.

What Is Compassionate Leadership?

Compassion can be defined as a willingness and desire to be kind to others. It means being thoughtful and aware of what others’ lives and experiences are like. It is the opposite of indifference, and it is one of the essential qualities that determine, quite frankly, whether one is a decent human being. It’s related to the qualities of sympathy and empathy, and at its root, it describes a deeper sense of understanding. In fact, the word’s origin means “to suffer with.” This suggests that compassion means more than seeing others as separate entities; it means seeing them as a part of yourself and relating to what they are experiencing at a much deeper level.

In the language of Emergenetics®, compassionate leaders flex into the Social attribute or the part of your brain that is relational and considers others. Compassionate leadership recognizes that every team member is not only a significant individual but also an essential thread in the fabric of an entire organization. They strive to enhance the happiness and well-being of their people by supporting them and giving them what they need to excel. Compassionate leadership is not focused on the short-term or instant gratification; rather, it is focused on what’s best for the individual, the team, the organization and it considers other factors that may influence or impact the situation at hand.

Why Is Compassionate Leadership Essential?

Compassionate leadership is more than just a feel-good add-on to your tool belt of skills. It’s a requirement of modern leaders who want to navigate their people and organizations to sustainable success and a brighter future. There might have been a time when compassion was viewed as weakness. Those days are long gone. Today, leaders are expected to treat their people with a greater sense of caring and humanity and to respect the unique attributes and qualities each person brings to the team and organization.

Compassionate leaders:

  • Are more engaging, and can create higher levels of overall employee engagement
  • Build robust, trusting relationships at all levels
  • Are viewed as being strong
  • Inspire greater collaboration within organizations
  • Contribute to lower rates of employee turnover
  • Inspire their people to feel more connected to one another
  • Create environments where employees feel a greater sense of commitment to their organizations

And, as Dr. Geil Browning shared in her recent blog post about love in leadership, building a culture of compassion and engagement is a business imperative with studies demonstrating that companies with engaged employees perform 200 percent better than those without.

It’s important to note that compassionate leadership is all about giving people what they need and not necessarily what they want. There is a subtle and crucial difference between practicing compassion and enabling bad behavior. Sometimes you will need to give constructive criticism or relate bad news, for example. You may think that the compassionate thing to do would be to avoid these interactions altogether or tell a person what you think they want to hear. This only enables ongoing inappropriate behavior and is the opposite of compassion.

Remember: being compassionate means taking the longer-term view and doing what’s best for everyone. Therefore, the better thing to do is to respectfully and firmly offer your criticism or break the bad news in a manner that’s straightforward and frank. Then your people can indeed learn, grow and become more attuned to the goals of the organization.

How to Grow More Compassionate as a Leader

If your goal is to complement your pragmatic leadership with heart-based qualities like compassion, remember that your heart is a muscle, and muscles require exercise. Therefore, if you want to become more compassionate, you must practice. It may not seem natural, but the more you work on your compassion, the more it will become second nature to you.

Here are some practices that can help you grow your compassion and become a more grounded, productive and successful leader:

Listen and Learn

You are a leader, but that doesn’t mean you know it all. If you’re good at your job, you’ve surrounded yourself with intelligent people who possess wisdom and smarts, so listen to them and solicit their opinions. Give them the chance to contribute their expertise and strengths. Being stubborn or thinking you know it all kills compassion. Instead, be open to the growth that can come from allowing yourself to learn from others.

One way to practice your listening and learning skills is using the Emergenetics Profile. When your employees take the Profile and discover their thinking and behavioral preferences, you can see where their inherent strengths lie and seek out their input, particularly in projects that speak to their preferences. For example, when faced with a situation that might require more process-oriented thinking, you can ask for input from a team member with a Structural preference. Understanding the Profiles of your employees will help you better use the strengths of your staff and identify individuals who can help you grow in new ways.

Communicate Mindfully

Your ability to listen and learn will be enhanced tremendously by your willingness to communicate with others more mindfully. Don’t monopolize meetings and conversations. Give people room to express themselves – and remember some of your team members may need more time to do this than others. Provide feedback on a continuous, collaborative basis. Ask thoughtful questions and stay present so you can receive thoughtful answers. You should also pay attention to body language—expressed by others and yourself.

Exemplify Unselfishness

Healthy competition can enhance performance and drive people to greater heights. But greedy behaviors that come from unhealthy competition only poison the organization. You are not in a struggle with your people to see who can accomplish more or receive the most praise. You are there to inspire them and to show that you are willing to put forth the same effort you are asking of them.

Find ways to show your gratitude and promote the great work of your employees. Consider how the thinking and behavioral preferences of team members may help this feedback be even more meaningful. For example, if you want to highlight the work of a Conceptual thinker, you may want to do so in an imaginative way while an Analytical thinker will likely prefer an efficient, written message.

I believe it’s essential to remove some of the artificial barriers that separate leaders from employees. These barriers prevent the flow of compassion from happening. Yes, boundaries are crucial, and you have to maintain them properly. However, separating yourself and your goals from the people who work for you will drain the compassion from your team and your organization at large.

Keep in mind: compassion is contagious. The more compassionate you are, the more compassionate your people will be.

Can You Be a More Compassionate Leader?

The Harvard Business Review surveyed more than 1,000 leaders recently, and 80 percent of them stated they would like to enhance their compassion. Chances are you would also like to improve your ability to lead from the heart by operating more compassionately in your leadership role. If this is the case, reach out to me. I want to hear from you! Email me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca.