We need a more human kind of leadership to be successful in today's world.
In a survey of over 1,000 leaders from 800 organizations, 91% said compassion is very important for their leadership and 80% said they would like to enhance their compassion but do not know how (source). Gallup's Strengths Based Leadership survey found that compassion is one of the four main qualities followers want most from their leaders (StrengthsFinder, Roth).
We define compassion as understanding where people are coming from, feeling concern for them in a genuine way, and acting to help them be successful.
Compassion is innate to all of us and can also be trained and cultivated. It is a powerful tool for relating to others on both an interpersonal and organizational level.
Compassion benefits leaders and drives organizational performance.
Leader - Building resilience:
People who feel compassion demonstrate less depression, reduced moodiness, and less mental illness (source).
Cultivating compassion leads to more calm and less emotional distress in the face of suffering (source).
Cultivating self-compassion results in greater ability to empathize with others, greater ability to own up to one’s own mistakes and learn from them, and greater ability to bounce back from negative events (source).
People who practice compassion produce 23% less cortisol, which is the hormone associated with stress.(source)
Team - Creating alignment:
People who feel compassion demonstrate higher levels of helping behavior, moral reasoning, connectedness, and stronger interpersonal relationships (source).
Researchers found high levels of compassion inspired higher levels of trust between team members, who were then more likely to share important information with peers both on and off their team. (source)
In a survey of over 1,000 business leaders across more than 800 organizations, leaders who exhibited (or were perceived by the team to exhibit) high levels of compassion had teams who scored higher on critical performance dynamics within their organizations.(source)
Organization - Transforming engagement:
Teams led by compassionate leaders exhibited better intra-team collaboration, stronger commitment to the company, and far lower turnover rates than those led by less-compassionate leaders. (source)
Studies show that workers who feel compassion from their employers are likely to work harder, to the tune of 30% longer on difficult tasks (source).
Research on employee tenure and loyalty shows that when leaders are perceived to have high levels of compassion, their teams are 15 percent more likely to stay with the company. For a 50 employee company, a 15 percent improvement in employee retention can translate to nearly $400,000 in additional profit per year. (source)
Yet, bringing compassion into leadership is difficult for two main reasons:
1. Compassion is misunderstood
80% of leaders we surveyed believed that compassion is about "being nice or soft," or "loving everyone." In fact, one leader recommended we avoid the word altogether and think about empathy instead. This misunderstanding is creating an aversion towards and an under-utilization of compassion in leadership.
2. Few TOOLS and PRACTICES exist for leading with compassion
Many leaders believe that it's hard to balance results with compassion. Yet, in interviews, when compassion was accurately defined, almost all leaders said it reflected what it looked like when they were leading at their best.
So, we need to redefine compassion for leaders and provide tools to apply it at work — the first step is to move beyond empathy
Empathy is needed, but it is insufficient.
Empathy can lead to positive or negative behavior. Compassion always leads to prosocial behavior. In studies, empathy training significantly increased people's negative affect in response to distress. In contrast, compassion training both reverses negative affect and increases positive affect. (source)
While empathy can lead to fatigue, compassion can increase our resilience and improve our approach to stressful situations. (source)
The second step is to move beyond mindfulness training
Mindfulness training is largely popularized as a tool for increased productivity and stress-relief. However, mindfulness, which is part of an ancient meditation tradition, was never intended for these purposes. Instead, the original intention for this practice was to focus on exploring the mind with the purpose of changing our very being. Through mindfulness of our thoughts, perceptions, and projections, we are able to act with greater intention and benefit towards others.
Recent research shows that while mindfulness leads to increases in observation, non-reactivity, and presence, it does not increase acceptance or non-judging behavior. In fact, only perspective-taking and compassion-based practices lead to broad changes in ethical-motivational qualities like a nonjudgmental attitude, compassion, and self-compassion" (source).
Finally, we need to move beyond meditation practices to providing tools for applying compassion in action
Compassion training using loving-kindness and affective meditation practices work to cultivate genuine caring for others, but they fall short of helping us know what to do. The foundation for compassionate action is wisdom, which includes the ability to discern the most helpful response and learn from assessing the impacts of our actions. Without a holistic, long-term view of what's helpful, compassion can be limited to reacting to short-term needs.
We need tools and practices, such as how to deliver feedback with candor, to help us take the best actions for the long run. No one has the solution for how to lead in the best way. It depends on the mindset, context and conditions of the situation. We never tell leaders what to do, but we help them to show up at their best. Through them, we're learning answers to questions such as:
How can I align my team on collective values?
How can I make decisions collectively, especially across divides?
How do we want to be together as a team and an organization to create a positive culture?
How can I best communicate and implement the changes we need to make while remaining sensitive to the needs of the people we're impacting?
How can I transition my organization into a new operating model without creating unintended harm?
How can I consider the human implications of my products and services while still achieving results?
We tools and practices to apply mindfulness and compassion through interactive workshops, company presentations, and speaking engagements.