The New Face of Leadership: Embracing Compassion

The pandemic has been a significant time for all of us. Everything has changed, including the business world, leaders, consulting firms, and employees. According to the Korn Ferry survey “Future of Work Trends 2022,” there has been a shift in power from organisations to people, from focusing solely on profit to creating mutual success, and from an individual focus to a collective one.

This shift from “me” to “us” aligns with the Engage and Grow philosophy, which has always emphasised the importance of people, emotions, and relationships. The Korn Ferry survey also highlights the increased focus on employee health and well-being, which has become a central part of every organisation’s plans.

Remote working has led employees to have a greater understanding and concern for their well-being, expecting companies to act more human, provide flexible working, better healthcare, and support to maintain their personal energy. This shift is not just a humane approach but also the right thing to do for both people and organisations. Simply giving lip service won’t suffice; caring has become even more crucial.

4 key findings about leaders

Egon Zehnder’s work with CEOs reveals the following key findings:

  1. CEOs agree that business complexities and rapid changes are reshaping the CEO’s role, with 90% of CEOs surveyed acknowledging that the CEO has moved into the centre of louder, more diverse and diverging voices in recent years.
  2. Nearly 80% of CEOs strongly agree that they need to transform themselves as well as their organisation, recognizing the need for personal change to drive global change. However, they admit to struggling to connect with their people and elevate their collective ambition.
  3. While CEOs sense that their goal is prosperity for the many, they are far from achieving it. Although social and environmental contributions are acknowledged as important, traditional financial metrics remain the primary decision-driver for most CEOs.
  4. CEOs are expanding their capacity to be adaptive, relational, and self-aware, focusing on developing new leadership skills such as self-reflection, listening to diverse perspectives, and seeking honest feedback from various sources.

Holistic leadership, holistic perspective

Qualities like Emotional Intelligence (EQ), self-awareness, and mindfulness are crucial for strong, well-rounded leadership, and so is compassion. Compassionate leaders understand that each team member is not just a valuable individual but also a vital part of the whole organisation. They aim to improve the happiness and well-being of their team by providing support and what they need to do their best.

Compassionate leadership extends beyond short-term gains or quick rewards; it focuses on what’s best for the individual, the team, and the organisation, taking into account other factors that may affect the situation at hand.

What are compassionate behaviours?

Compassionate behaviours involve several key actions:

Attending: means being fully present with those we lead, actively listening and showing genuine interest in what they have to say.

Understanding: requires deep listening to comprehend the challenges that those we lead encounter in their work.

Empathising: involves acknowledging and understanding the emotions and difficulties of those we lead without becoming overwhelmed by those feelings, which then motivates leaders to assist or support them.

Helping: entails ensuring that there are clear pathways for those we lead to achieve their goals by removing obstacles and providing the necessary resources and support to enable them to deliver high-quality work.

Mid-level managers’ nightmare: Which one first? Performance or Compassion?

In a recent article by HBR, a dual set of solutions was proposed to address the dilemma of balancing compassion with performance demands. The first solution involves increasing the organisation’s “compassion capacity,” where both senior executives and employees share the responsibility of delivering compassion, lessening the burden on middle managers.

The second solution focuses on reducing the perceived pressure of performance demands by collaborating with both executives and employees. Middle managers can alleviate the pressure of strict performance targets by effectively communicating the situation with upper management.

This can be achieved through the “Tell” method, which involves informing top leaders about the extent of the problem, or by using the “Show” method, where leaders are personally exposed to the compassion needs of their employees. However, middle managers must ensure that their communication is not misinterpreted as “whining” or making excuses, and they must make it clear that they are not seeking to lower performance targets.

Therefore, effective communication, whether through “tell” or “show” methods, should be established before revealing the results.

Get to know your team members

Don’t just focus on what’s visible; try to understand the things that are not so obvious. Recent research has shown that some challenges requiring compassion are like “invisible enemies” because employees may not even realise what they’re going through.

For example, loneliness at work is often not obvious from outward signs like team membership or how outgoing someone is. It’s more about feeling that few people really know or support you in times of need, leading to a sense of being superficially connected to others.

To address this, it’s essential to create an environment of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks, like asking questions and admitting mistakes. Empathy is crucial in such situations, as it’s the key characteristic of companies led by compassionate leaders and managers.

While it’s not always possible to fully understand everyone’s emotions, the effort to empathise and acknowledge their feelings is vital, especially for middle managers who need to balance empathy with performance targets. Additionally, with the growing trend of flexible working, it’s essential to recognize that remote work is likely to become permanent, and it is a must to adapt to the new expectations of the workforce.

Younger people, especially around three-quarters of millennials, prefer having more control over their work schedule. To manage work effectively, it’s crucial to create clear project steps and maintain open communication. Compassion plays a key role here, as it helps in understanding that when working from home, some people may also have caregiving responsibilities.

It’s essential to recognize that some employees might work outside regular hours due to these responsibilities or other needs, such as taking care of their children. This means that sometimes scheduled meetings may not always align with everyone’s agenda. However, it’s crucial to focus on the outcomes, consider the overall impact, and most importantly, build and demonstrate trust in your team.

Are women more compassionate, or does this reflect gender inequality?

It’s critical to acknowledge the statement that “Women leaders are a requirement of the twenty-first century. Organisations must empower women with leadership roles to be more productive and show their latent potential, increasing workplace diversity because it is a challenging undertaking that will require the support and participation of everyone in the Company.”

Are compassion and empathy natural traits of women, or do their interpersonal skills make them compassionate leaders? Diverse experiences and perspectives are crucial for driving innovation, as they lead to better decision-making. Consequently, companies with greater diversity tend to outperform those with less diversity.

Studies, such as the one conducted by IBM, have found that women are often more empathetic, better communicators, effective leaders, and adept at handling crises. However, disparities in leadership roles persist due to organisations’ slow pace of change and their pursuit of incremental rather than breakthrough approaches.

Women leaders are not only focused on protecting their homes and children but also their organisations, brands, employees, reputations, and earnings. Their protective instinct at home is integrated with sustainability in their professional roles.

Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The research analysing the world’s 1000 largest companies reveals that companies led by women are closer to the “1.5 degree” target, showing that women have achieved sustainability at both the global and institutional level.

How To Be A More Compassionate Leader

Becoming a more compassionate leader is a learning process that involves recognizing and understanding the emotions and humanity of those around us. To do this:

  1. It’s best to be self-aware and practice self-compassion.
  2. Try to empathise with others and understand their perspectives.
  3. See yourself as a conductor of an orchestra, guiding and coordinating your team.
  4. Encourage personal accountability among your team members.
  5. Offer constructive and valuable feedback to support your team’s growth.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is compassion gaining importance in leadership today?

Compassion is becoming crucial in leadership as it fosters a positive workplace culture, promotes employee well-being, and contributes to overall business success.

2. What qualities are expected from leaders in today’s workplaces?

Today, leaders are expected to be kind, caring, understanding, and more human-centric, as opposed to solely focusing on superhuman qualities.

3. How can compassionate leadership address the risk of misunderstandings between middle managers and top bosses?

Clear communication is crucial for middle managers to avoid being perceived as complaining or making excuses when discussing challenges with top bosses.

4. How do women leaders contribute to organisational success through compassion and empathy?

Women leaders bring unique perspectives, empathy, and emotional understanding to the workplace, fostering a culture of creativity, inclusivity, and strong connections within teams.

5. In what ways has the role of CEOs transformed in response to the changing business world?

CEOs are adapting to a rapidly changing business world, recognizing the importance of personal change, improving leadership skills, and seeking to contribute to society and the environment.