Leadership brings many pressures to bear. There are numerous demands on your attention and your time and, to put it bluntly, many people feel there is no room for compassion in the workplace. But there is robust evidence that a compassionate leader boosts the performance and effectiveness of their team. In this blog we look at why compassion makes a difference and how you can become a more compassionate leader.

The case for compassionate leadership

There is an obvious moral case for compassion in the workplace. After all, we spend the majority of our adult life at work and we all deserve to feel appreciated and accepted while we are there. But what are the commercial benefits of being a more compassionate leader?

There is strong evidence that corporate cultures rooted in compassion create greater engagement and loyalty among employees, stronger team bonds, increased trust, enhanced job satisfaction, better staff retention and reduced levels of sick leave and absenteeism. Externally, this leads to higher standards of customer service, superior organisational reputation and positive brand associations. In fact, according to this study, organisations with the kind of high employee engagement generated by a compassionate culture outperform the stock market too.

Blockers to compassion

However, despite the strength of the argument, we recognise that there are many blockers to creating a compassionate culture. Firstly, there’s a significant disconnect between perception and reality. As the CIPD reports, research by Businessolver found that “while 92% of CEOs perceived their organisations as empathetic, only 72% of employees said they worked for an empathetic employer. Additionally, 58% of CEOs reported difficulty in consistently exhibiting empathy in the workplace. This suggests there is a deficiency in the number of senior leaders who value a culture of empathy and compassion.”

Furthermore, from our own personal experience, we’d say that genuine compassion in the workplace is in even shorter supply than these statistics suggest, not least because compassion is so much more than empathy (as discussed in our previous blog).

We appreciate that being a compassionate leader is easier said than done. Whether it’s due to a fear of appearing weak, a perceived lack of time, feelings of overwhelming pressure or a strong sense that compassion is counter-cultural in their workplace, it’s not surprising that CEOs say it’s difficult to be compassionate at work.

Four stages of compassion

So, under these circumstances, how does a leader become more compassionate? The first step is to embrace the four stages of compassion:

  1. Attending

This means paying attention to those around you and noticing when they are struggling, which requires first connecting with colleagues. It is only by getting to know them and actively listening that you will spot when they are not their ‘normal selves’.

  1. Understanding

As we discussed in our last blog, understanding is crucial for compassion. Resisting any urge to judge or criticise, a compassionate leader sets aside their views and sees the other person’s pain for what it is, recognising that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances they’re in.

  1. Empathising

By trying to put yourself in another’s shoes and feel what they are feeling you can tap into the power of empathy. Empathy makes the other person feel heard and their feelings validated, so really deepens the connection, making them more likely to accept support too.

  1. Helping

This final stage is where empathy becomes supercharged and morphs into compassion. This point, at which a leader steps forward to provide tangible, tailored, practical help to improve the life and experience of another person, is where the greatest impact is made.

A truly compassionate leader is someone who moves through these stages effortlessly, modelling behaviour for others to follow.

Building a compassionate culture

The ultimate goal is to build a compassionate culture where colleagues naturally look out for each other, respond to others’ needs and appreciate the value of openness, connection and genuine support. Where compassion is given and received freely throughout an organisation, and can be found in the smallest and most routine of moments, it always comes from the top.

If you need our support with boosting compassion in your leadership, or across your wider organisation, please get in touch. We’d be delighted to hear from you.

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