Leading with Compassion

By Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, GPHR, President & CEO
Published February 13, 2018

Lead with CompassionEach day, humans have an array of opportunities to demonstrate compassion, from opening the door for a young mother pushing a stroller to offering a listening ear to a neighbor who is going through a rough patch. Whether the person needing compassion is a total stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member, the benefits of acting with compassion accrue to both the recipient and the giver. This same principle applies in the workplace where acting with compassion can make a world of difference. Leaders who act first as humans and second as managers will experience a myriad of rewards that will have a lasting impact on the people and the organizations they lead.

A title from recent article in the Harvard Business Review caught my eye by posing the question, “Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?” The authors provide statistical and anecdotal evidence which indicate that many managers lack self-awareness and believe they are more inspiring and motivating than they really are. In a 2016 Gallup engagement survey, 82% of employees rated their leaders as uninspiring. Ouch! It is no wonder that many forward-thinking organizations are working hard to make their workplaces more people-centered by training their leaders to be more human.  

So, what does being human leader look like?  Here are a few examples:

  • An employee’s beloved pet has just passed away. A human leader might provide paid time off under a flexible bereavement or PTO policy or even send a card and/or flowers.  
  • A team has been working long hours to finish a major project. A human leader would acknowledge this extra effort in person and/or via a card or email, as well as consider extra time off, a free meal(s), or gift card.
  • The weather forecast is calling for more snow and dangerous road conditions during rush hour. A human leader wouldn’t just plan to personally work remotely, but instead look for ways to maintain productivity while keeping the entire team safe by an early closing, telecommuting options, etc.

In each of these examples, the article recommends the leader can ask the following question: “If my child or parent or good friend worked here, would they appreciate this decision?” By translating the managerial questions that arise in any given day into personal questions, the chances of striking a healthy balance between business and individual needs are greatly increased. As a double-check, a leader should also consider whether they have something personal to gain from any given decision or if they are truly acting in a selfless manner that will positively impact others.

Becoming an effective and successful leader is a marathon not a sprint. Some days it is easy to make tough decisions with compassion, and other days it is more challenging. My advice is to slow down your process and think through your decisions. Be a human first and then a manager. Over time, you will find that acting with compassion becomes second nature once you begin to see the transformational power it has on employee motivation and workplace culture.   


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