Compassionate Leadership – Using Your Head and Your Heart

September 1, 2020

What is compassionate leadership? Compassionate leadership is just what it sounds like – the kind of leadership that uses compassion and understanding to oversee and motivate employees rather than intimidation, dictatorship, and fear.

Many times when I talk about leadership from this perspective, I hear things such as “I don’t have time to coddle my employees,” “I don’t want to seem weak or a pushover,” or “Their paycheck should be enough motivation!”

Many leaders believe they should lead with their heads and not with their hearts. They view compassion and empathy as weaknesses and believe managing with heart will negatively impact their ability to get results and hit their “bottom line.” But what these leaders do not realize is that a compassionate leader leverages both heart and head.

Leading with compassion – when employees are cared for, listened to, and supported – as opposed to ruling with an iron fist will actually improve trust, loyalty, and engagement. Numerous studies show that improved engagement results in better productivity, safety, quality, attendance, and employee satisfaction – all of which can add up to an improved bottom line.

Successful companies understand the importance of compassionate leadership. However, leading with compassion and empathy becomes even more important during times of crisis, like we are facing now.

With employee anxiety, fear, and stress at an all-time high and growing uncertainty about the future, strong, compassionate leadership is needed to help lead your company during and after the crisis. Creating an environment where employees feel safe and supported means they need to know you care about them, trust that you are looking out for their best interests, and that you empathize with how they are feeling.

Employee trust, loyalty, and commitment can be tested during difficult times. How companies and leaders respond to the situation is critical. Employees will remember how they were treated during these difficult times. If you are effective in putting your employees first, it will have a lasting impact on employee behavior, including engagement, productivity, and loyalty. A leader’s response to a crisis can help the company respond, adapt, and rebound or it can have the opposite effect. If employees don’t feel supported or informed, their performance, engagement, and well-being are on the line – which also puts the bottom line at risk.

Compassionate leaders communicate clearly and often during a crisis. The more open and honest you are as leaders, the more employees are willing to show up and do the work knowing that their leadership cares about them, takes their safety seriously, and will provide the necessary resources and support to help them manage the situation.

Not all employees experience the same challenges during a crisis. What pressures are they facing at home or with their children? How is their well-being? Do they feel safe at work?

Compassionate leaders must care about their employees as real people. They ask questions, help with realistic solutions but, most importantly, listen actively and empathically. You may not be able to solve all your employees’ problems, but what you can do is listen and show true compassion and concern. You make them feel valued, important, and connected to the company through your relationship with them.

The benefit of compassionate leadership for companies – during normal business times or during a crisis – is that it keeps the focus on what is most important to the success of any organization: its people.

Does your company need assistance developing compassionate leaders? Foundations’ hallmark solution is training in servant leadership. Our consultants have spent years developing compassionate leaders in times of crisis and beyond. Contact us to assist with this or any of your other Human Resources needs.

-Karen Combs, Consultant

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