The hallmark qualities of a sociopath include: lack of empathy, an insincere charm, and great skill in manipulating others. We’ve all seen that boss, I’m sure.
And I would bet that even leaders who are not “clinically” sociopathic, put effort toward trying to exhibit what our business culture has rewarded for so long: The tough as nails, emotionally distant, demanding, unfriendly and even cruel leader.
An emerging leader I once coached said, “I don’t know if I’m cut out to be the boss. I’m not mean enough.”
Isn’t that telling? The common perception by both the workforce and leaders is: You’ve got to be a hard-ass to be in charge.
Well, I 100%, emphatically, full-out DISAGREE!
(In compassionate sort of way…)
Not only is there room for kindness in successful leadership, but there are an increasing number of studies showing that compassionate leaders get better results. Compassion and kindness foster well-being among leaders and workers – which improves employee health (reduced absenteeism) and productivity (better business results).
Whether you are a company of one or you are leading multitudes of employees – compassion counts. If you are a solo practitioner, your compassion is vital to your work with clients, vendors, and sub-contractors. And it’s vital to your own health – kindness breeds well-being for yourself as well as others.
Compassion appears to be a natural instinct (which later becomes trained out of some people). I like the way Emma Seppala, PhD, explains empathy, altruism and compassion. She describes empathy as the emotional experience of another person’s feelings – a mirroring of another’s emotion. Altruism is an action that benefits someone else (whether or not you feel empathic toward them). And compassion often involves an empathic response and an altruistic behavior. Feelings plus action.
If you are reading this blog, you are probably already in the camp of believers that compassion and kindness have an important place in leadership. But now, I want to encourage you to full-out put it into practice. If our overall work culture is going to change, your role is to boldly step up and (kindly) lead the charge. A few ways to cultivate compassion in your business:
- Notice when you are focused on yourself. Proactively shift your thinking from “I” to “We.” It’s great to be driven – but a compassionate leader is ambitious for “we,” not just “I.” You may have an impassioned mission for your business. If so, does it benefit just you, the business owner? Or is your mission wider reaching, for the improvement of many others? Some businesses write up a lovely sounding mission that appears to benefit the world, but may, in day-to-day practice, operate in a way that only benefits the business owners. Keep an eye on the times when you lose sight of the bigger mission. The one that resonates with the desires of your employees, customers and everyone participating in your business.
- Take inventory of who you ARE as a leader. Are you compassionate? Does your behavior demonstrate so? Would those you lead regard you as kind? Who do you WANT to be as a leader? Remember, being kind is not a sign of weakness. You can be direct and kind. Driven and kind. Decisive and kind. Compassion actually reveals your strength. Most “hard-ass” leaders use bravado as a veil to hide their insecurity. That’s not you.
- Practice curiosity. My motto is: Curiosity Creates Compassion. When you are feeling an internal harshness toward someone (that jerk who cut you off in traffic!), practice conjuring up some curiosity. (“Wonder what is happening for him?” “Maybe she just received terrible news and is suffering.”) Just leaning into those curious thoughts will open your heart, even just a little, and in that space there is room for your compassion to emerge.
- Practice Loving Kindness. This is simply a way of being in the world – of holding yourself and others in a positive regard, without judgment. Loving Kindness Meditation is a significant movement you might want to learn more about.
- Trust in the Joy of Giving. Your business experience could be “dog-eat-dog,” or you can create a more collaborative, cooperative arena in which to work. When networking, lead with a giver’s heart. When making your sales pitch, lean into generosity. And – this is a toughie for some – approach your competitors with an open heart, an open mind. How can you help them?
- Listen Deeply. You may hear the words others are saying, but are you truly listening? Deep listening is a skill you can learn and improve on over time. One important element of listening is to tune your full attention to the other person, rather than what you want to say in response. Just this one skill will elevate your listening wisdom. Compassion lives in the spaces where people feel fully heard. You can create that space for those you are leading and serving.
As a business owner, YOU get to decide who you want to be as a leader, and how you want your business to lead in this world. No matter what service you are providing, you have an opportunity to bring forth your compassion and kindness in so many ways. In some business circles, you’ll be going against the grain. But isn’t that what great leaders do anyway?
Please share your kindness practices, we can learn so much from each other.