We need a more human kind of leadership to be successful in today's world
Leadership is more relational than technical. However, we are not traditionally trained in techniques to effectively work together. Recent neuroscience, psychology, and organizational research studies are proving the case that compassion can be a key competency to transform leadership effectiveness and organizational performance.
After aggregating data from more than 5,600 people across 77 organizations, Christina Boedker from the Australian School of Business concluded the ability of a leader to be empathetic and compassionate – that is, "to understand people's motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be,” had the greatest impact on organizational profitability and productivity (source).
In addition, today’s employees are increasingly demanding compassion from their leaders. Gallup's Strengths Based Leadership survey of over 10,000 followers found that compassion is one of the four main qualities they need most from their leaders (source).
When compassion is demystified and translated into workplace practices and behaviors for leaders, organizations improve wellbeing, retention, and performance.
Compassion benefits leaders and drives organizational performance
Compassionate leadership is understanding where you and others are coming from, feeling concern for yourself and them in a genuine way, and acting to help yourself and them be successful.
People who practice compassion produce 23% less cortisol, which is the hormone associated with stress.(source)
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 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)
Organizational performance and retention:
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
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). 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 demystify and 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 build on 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. It is a first and crucial step for improving relationships.
But mindfulness alone is not enough. 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.
Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, authors of Strengths Based Leadership, conducted research at Gallup interviewing more than thirteen million people in the workplace. They found that at the individual level, compassion can manifest in many different ways, such as showing you care by having tough conversations with people about their performance. (source)
Compassion can also manifest at an institutional level.
The research results from Christina Boedker (cited earlier) and her team showed that high-performing workplaces where compassionate leadership is present, as opposed to the organizations in which productivity and profitability are below average, the following statistics were revealed:
leaders spend more time and effort managing their people (29.3% higher)
managers have clear values and practice what they preach (25.7% higher)
senior people give employees opportunities to lead work assignments and activities (22.9% higher)
management encourages employee development and learning (21.1% higher)
leaders welcome criticism and feedback as learning opportunities (20.4% higher)
managers give increased recognition and acknowledgement to employees (19% higher)
leaders foster involvement and co-operation amongst employees (18% higher)
management communicates a clear vision and goals for the future (17.9% higher)
managers are innovative and encourage staff to think about problems in new ways (16.5% higher)
We need tools and practices that integrate compassion within communication, decision-making, navigating conflict, and providing constructive feedback to help us take the best course of action for everyone.
We provide tools and practices to lead with compassion through consulting engagements, interactive workshops, company presentations, and speaking engagements.