The simplest act of leadership led to one of the most pivotal experiences of my early career.
I was 27 years old and it was the end of my first week of my first corporate job working for the Ontario government. I sat in my cubicle, painfully aware of how much I had to learn and how little I had contributed so far.
The department director dropped by on her way out and said, “Thank you.” Thank you? For what? I wondered. “We are lucky to have you. Thank you for a great week.” I was dumbfounded. I came to notice that she regularly made a point of expressing gratitude and kindness to the people around her.
I admired how she she celebrated our achievements, protected us and reached out with help when we were struggling. She even showed up at my home one day with soup when I was sick. All without any fuss or grandeur. Her leadership was simply a humble reflection of who she was. Her compassion created a culture of caring and a team of people who genuinely cared about each other and our shared impact. We would have moved mountains had she asked us to.
One day, I asked her about her leadership style. She told me, “This is my job: To create the best conditions for people to love their work and be great at it. That’s it.” I remember thinking that was something I’d like to do also, to help people feel and express love through their work.
From her example, and from other leaders I’ve worked with since that time, I have learned that we can all create compassionate, loving conditions for people to thrive and be excellent. How could we do otherwise?
3 Reasons Why Compassion Matters
1. Compassion Is A Powerful Force For Change
Compassion isn’t exclusive to certain types of leaders or organizations. I see compassionate leadership in multinational corporations and in the smallest community-based organizations. It can live anywhere, because it lives in the hearts of people. When we engage those hearts, we witness its power.
In fact, CEOs and global leaders alike recognize that traditional management styles are making way for a new paradigm, and they in turn are embracing compassion.
Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, was recently interviewed by Oprah Winfrey about leadership. He has seen that when people are struggling at work, it changes how they feel about themselves and how people treat them and, ultimately, they take that reduced sense of themselves home to their families. He shared his experience of embracing compassion and his belief that this approach helps to “expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion”.
The 2016 Democratic National Convention was a case study in compassionate leadership. Speeches by Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Reverend William Barber, President Obama and others appealed to Americans to remain grounded in the fundamental principles of decency, fairness and compassion. They created a narrative of love and possibility. Compassion is fundamentally an expression of love.
2. Compassion Boosts Wisdom and Wealth
Compassion is good for us and it’s good for business. It alters our brains and makes us more altruistic and responsive to suffering. Practicing compassion builds empathy and resilience, and nurtures meaning and connectedness in our lives and work. It builds strong and healthy teams and organizations.
Stanford University’s Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education has found that compassion is an essential business practice. It helps to reduce stress in the workplace by lowering blood pressure, strengthening immunity, and improving employee health, which contributes to reduced sick time and increased productivity and profit. It’s a simple solution to complex problems.
3. Compassion Is Contagious
Research shows that the effects of compassion multiply because people tend to be kinder when someone has been kind to them. It’s a simple and humane way to create a sense of meaning and a culture of caring. It has many scientifically proven benefits, including:
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Boosting generosity
- Improving our health and longevity, and
- Making us more attractive to others!
5 Simple Ways To Lead With Compassion
If you’re wondering how you can nurture compassion in your environment, it’s surprisingly simple. Start with yourself and move outwards!
Jeff Weiner follows five principles of happiness as the basis for compassionate leadership:
1. Be in the moment. Being mindful and present is an incredible gift to others that says, “You matter.” It also helps you to pay attention to subtle cues that you might miss when your brain is racing ahead to the next problem.
2. It’s better to be loving than right. Sometimes we have to let go of our need for control in favour of connection and kindness. I find it helpful to place love as the north star on my compass and try to point myself there when I get lost.
3. Be a spectator to your own thoughts. We don’t have to act upon every thought that runs through our head. Learning to be aware of our thoughts and inner narrative is the first step in self-management and self-compassion.
4. Be grateful for at least 1 thing every day. Practicing gratitude reframes our thinking and nurtures an attitude of abundance. It shifts our energy to a higher frequency, bringing even more beauty into our lives.
5. Be of service to others. Consider your work as an instrument for spreading love in the world. Work in such a way that you intentionally make a difference.
What can you start doing now to spread compassion through your work? Becoming intentional about it could lead to surprising results. Compassion is vital and viral: the more we practice it, the better we feel, the better our organizations function, and the more abundant our world becomes in the process.
Compassion isn’t exclusive to certain types of leaders or organizations. It can live anywhere, because it lives in the hearts of people. When we engage those hearts, we witness its power.