Part 3 of a 5-part leadership series.
At Integrated Success, our primary focus is helping leaders create thriving workplaces. This series shows how you can incorporate leadership elements that inspire commitment and excellence among your employees.
Compassion is something we don’t talk about much at work. Yet it’s so basic to humanity that people actually can’t thrive in the workplace without it. Compassion is also an essential ingredient in leading a high-performing team.
Work wasn’t designed for people.
The modern workplace descended from the Industrial Revolution, with its relentless push for ever-greater productivity. People were seen as tools; extensions of the machines they operated. Compassion and the human connection were actively engineered out of the system. As laws shifted, management became concerned with avoiding penalties, and the typical Human Resources department focused on compliance. For many leaders, it became preferable—and probably easier—to keep some distance from employees. But consistency and compliance, if taken too far, can result in serious unintended consequences.
I think it often came from a well-meaning place, like a boss I once knew who didn’t ask about anyone’s personal life, so he would never be accused of using that information negatively in work decisions. But instead of seeing fairness, people often felt disconnected and unimportant. Most employees did one of two things. They either left his team or they gave as little as they could, waiting for the moment their shift was over. Either way, employees were looking for a place they could come alive.
Today, we understand that organizations, leaders and employees all suffer when people aren’t respected as individuals with complex and rich lives. We also know the exceptional productivity power of high-performing teams. Our understanding of and commitment to employee wellbeing continues to evolve.
Leaders need compassion. Because people need compassion.
Compassion, along with trust, hope and stability, is one of the four primary elements people need at work. After years of conducting workplace surveys, Gallup consistently finds that when people feel like their supervisor cares about them as a whole person, they are significantly more likely to:
- Be more productive at work
- Be more engaged with their customers
- Be more innovative
- Stay with your organization longer
Leaders themselves benefit from compassion, both when they receive it and when they express it. Compassionate actions signal a leader’s positive regard, which is key to bringing out the best in others and, together, producing great results. To successfully and consistently reach goals and create the workplace where people want to be, you have to demonstrate that you care about people’s lives—that the whole person matters.
A lack of compassion in the workplace breeds negativity. Over time, it shows up as inefficiencies, dissatisfied customers and high turnover, and it ruins your brand as an employer of choice.
What compassion looks like at work.
It’s Personal—Compassion grows when you are open to getting to know people. Be a supportive leader by seeking to understand people’s strengths, challenges and motivations. Ask about what’s important to them: people want to be truly seen for who they are.
It’s Clear—Set clear expectations and communicate, so people know how well they are performing. While difficult, explaining to someone how their behaviors and attitudes are harming them professionally can be an expression of empathy.
It’s Big—To best engage employees, a leader must demonstrate compassion across the whole organization—possibly even to people you’ve never met. Think about ways you can use your broad influence to care for people. Are demonstrated organizational values and people practices contributing to (or detracting from) creating a culture that supports people in bringing their A game to work every day?
Five ways to show compassion for employees.
So how do you make sure your employees know you care about them as a whole person?
- Listen to people. Ask for their opinions and be honest about how it may be used.
- Communicate clearly and often.
- Model selflessness—promote others’ successes and help people in need.
- Encourage excellence, don’t demand perfection.
- Show gratitude.
These are just a few concrete actions you can take as a leader to show people they matter. In the words of social researcher and author, Brené Brown: “Compassion is not a virtue – it is a commitment….it’s something we choose to practice.”
One way to show compassion for yourself.
Great leadership based on compassion and trust isn’t easy! It takes courage to have tough conversations with employees, to help them grow or change what they are doing. But committing to it is necessary for your success – and theirs. If you’d like to know more about how you can deliver compassion, trust, hope and stability in your workplace, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s start the conversation!
Yours in success,
Linda Powell is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Integrated Success HR Consulting & Coaching, LLC. She is a Gallup-certified Strengths Coach and passionate about strengths-focused development. Integrated Success works with organizations in developing effective teams and human resources practices to bring out the best of individuals for their own success and that of the organization. That’s why we say, “Integrated Success is the engine behind individuals and organizations thriving!”