How to Become a Compassionate Leader

By Karen Delk, MSc, PCC. Right now, some of the benefits of the slowdown of the hustle and bustle of work and life are noticing, appreciating, and enjoying nature. As an executive coach, my role is to help leaders identify different parts of their skill sets and use them confidently in times of growth, ambiguity, and crisis. 

Many of my clients are tapping into a skill that they have but may not use often, which is compassion. The reason compassion is needed more now is life circumstances may be more uncertain than before for most leaders, and their employees. 

Returning to life as we knew it is increasingly complicated. Simple decisions about going to the office, taking public transportation, flying, sending children and young adults to school or to college have taken on new meaning. Leaders are monitoring work productivity, such as project implementation and new product and service rollouts, remotely. Leaders need to equally monitor levels of employee engagement and well-being. 

Leaders need to take more significant consideration of how to knit together the health and well-being of employees and staff and their families. Some companies are delaying office reopening until 2021 and continue to offer employees the opportunity to work from home. While this is an excellent option for employees, leaders need to do more to increase their compassion. 

A compassionate leader needs to notice — beyond the deliverable and daily task —that employees may feel lonely and stressed. Even though we are social animals, there is a lack of responsibility toward each other. We need to ask ourselves what’s going wrong? 

To be a compassionate leader is to take a holistic approach, sometimes being courageous to speak up, influencing, and doing what is right. Even if it costs a little in lost productivity because you took time to listen, learn, offer support, and guidance, it is worth it. To be compassionate is to feel deeply for another person as they experience the ups and downs of life. To be compassionate is more than telling someone that you care; it is showing them that you care by being there before they even ask for it. 

To be compassionate is to act. Actively seek ways to meet the need for human kindness and care. Examples of the qualities of compassion are patience and wisdom, kindness and perseverance, warmth, and resolve. Leaders can foster a culture of belonging, in a time when it matters more than ever. Understanding it is hard work and takes time to build and use the new habit so that over time your old ways will be distant memories. 

In business, we need leaders who are tough-minded and decisive. We also need leaders who understand their responsibility is to the broader organization, and at times, it will not please everyone. There will be disappointment. Get anchored and strong because the change we are experiencing is filled with a mix of uncertainty and opportunity. However, becoming a compassionate leader can help you be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. When you feel pressure not to be compassionate, a guiding principle to keep in mind is to be transparent with yourself and others. 

Being a compassionate leader can feel like the beautiful tree seemingly floating in the water. Visible with a mix of straight and bent branches weathering the changes that occur over time. What is invisible are the strong and deep roots the tree has developed to withstand the elements. Equally, it is critical for a compassionate leader to start to be kind and have compassion for oneself. Strengthen your roots like the tree in the water. 

Tips to being a more compassionate leader: 

1. Increase Compassion for Yourself and Others. Hard driving leaders are often hardest on themselves. They hold themselves to such a high standard that anything that doesn’t meet these high standards during the day is re-lived over and over in their mind. Do you lose sleep beating yourself up over a decision or the way you handled a situation? Do you find yourself caught in the loop of regret or self-critique? Does this self-chastising hold you back from enjoying the present, enjoying your life, and even thinking to the future? 

2. Being more compassionate and kinder toward yourself makes you less biased and judgmental toward others. You’re better able to create deep, meaningful connections with other people, for an optimized mindset, by having compassion.

3. I recommend reading Tara Brach’s book, Radical Compassion. It contains terrific stories and a step-by-step process to increase compassion.

You will be a better leader as a result of increasing your compassion. 

To learn more about leading with compassion, and other leadership skills needed for 2021 and beyond, schedule a consultation with Karen.