Leadership is not management. Compassion is not weakness. Too often we use negatives to frame positives, as a way to eliminate non-examples. The effect may increase our clarity, but it often puts a heavy penalty on the very thing we want to amplify. Machines, time, and animals can be managed, but people must be led. Similarly, leadership can express itself in the person of a benign dictator, a malevolent overlord, or an emotionally connected guide. The price any organization pays for dissonant leadership—for tolerating the dictator or overlord—is multi-faceted and often unseen, but one benefit of resonant leadership is the freedom to feel and show compassion.
Compassion is showing genuine concern and care for those with whom you work. You cannot expect reciprocity with compassion. You do for those around you what is right, when it is right, without a tacit expectation of repayment. Compassion sends a message to those you lead: You, the people contributing to this organization, are important to me. Your needs will be met consistently and fairly.
Compassion is placing the needs of people above standard operating procedures. Compassion stems from empathy, an emotional intelligence that fosters resonance throughout your organization.
No Artificial Anything
Compassion, empathy, and resonance cannot be artificially applied like a beautiful veneer to an ugly undercoat. You cannot fake compassion, any more than you pretend to possess emotional intelligence. You can strengthen a weak emotional core; you can develop emotional intelligence.
You may not feel you are a compassionate person. Simply acknowledging this is a good thing; you can build on that awareness. You can consciously develop the traits of compassion. You can practice being empathetic.
Too often we listen in ready anticipation of our chance to leap in and to negate others’ statements. Try instead to truly listen to what others are saying, to weigh the tone and timber of their voices as they share their ideas, dilemmas or sorrows. Attentive silence shows you value others' thoughts and will give them time to completely share those thoughts.
By listening, you convey empathy. You develop the resonant chords of compassion. You also, to your great benefit, learn far more than you can by talking. You may piece together the source of frustration or failure in an important project. You may hear more than the other person intended to relate.
Compassion is applying emotional intelligence to those you have tasked with specific goals. Compassion, as we said at the outset, is not to be confused with weakness. You are not “soft” when you listen to and take to heart the very real obstacles your team presents to you. Compassion allows you to show them your understanding and emotionally connect to them.
Compassion can be confused with fruitlessly admiring the problem, but it really goes beyond that. You listen, but you also must act, and rally your team to act through your leadership. They present the source of stress, anxiety or defeat and, together, you work to overcome it.