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Lead with compassion; the changing qualities of good leadership

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 year ago
  • Author: Zara Winstanley
People fear change and yet the cliché that we live in times of enormous change and upheaval is true; it is constant and inevitable. Introducing change into an organisation can be challenging, but what is key is how people and the organisations handle change.

The pandemic saw unprecedented change, and we looked to our leaders for guidance on how to adapt with this. For the past two years, our leaders have been guidance counsellors, friends and support networks, helping their teams recover physically and mentally from the aftermath of a global pandemic. With the decline in employee morale and mental health alongside an increase in anxieties and redundancies, it is unsurprising that the leaders of today have had to carry a large emotional burden.

There are also the changes we can predict and are constant like the growth and development in tech and medicine and social and political changes that affect the workforce. With these changes, comes the need for a successful change strategy, adaptability, planning and the drive of good leadership. Because even a well thought out change strategy sometimes needs to adapt at a moments notice.

Whether expected or not, leaders can learn from these emotional and societal upheavals and carry them through to evolve their leadership methods. This shift in leaders engaging more empathetically with their teams and leading with compassion has all-round great benefits from both sides.

We look at the top qualities needed in good leadership to facilitate change within an organisation and why leading with compassion is beneficial for both employee and leader.

Compassion is key

Employees often report that their best leaders are the ones who are empathetic and understanding. It has always been a critical skill for leaders, but in times of change being empathetic is vital in everything from innovation to retention.

Understanding what another is feeling and the willingness to help alleviate suffering for another are the two distinctive qualities of compassion. Whilst empathy helps in understanding other individuals’ feelings and perspectives, compassion provides a good understanding of a person’s experiences that pulls on our emotional awareness, it is proactively helping to seek solutions and guidance for their problems. By asking questions such as how can I support this individual or what can be done to improve this situation for all?

Compassion is about thoughtfulness and being aware of others and their experiences, it is way more than just a feel-good add-on to your skillset. For leaders, it is essential when able to navigate their people and organisations for a brighter future and sustainable success. Compassion enables leaders to be more engaging, create more trusting relationships and cultivate environments where employees feel a greater sense of commitment to their organisations.

Why empathy should be avoided

Being empathetic helps us get a wider understanding of another’s experiences, it helps us feel with another individual, however, it may not be the best guide for leaders. When led by empathy, our judgment is clouded making it hard to consider all decisions and the best outcomes for all. It can be a motivating factor in aiding others, but it can distort our judgment and encourage bias, making us choose the wrong outcomes for everyone as a wider group.

This is not to say as a leader we should ignore our instincts to be empathetic, avoiding it completely takes away a leader’s ability to engage and connect. It is key to grasp a basic understanding of employee needs and to understand why an employee may feel the way they do. However, it is important as a leader to make decisions under compassion in opposed to leading with empathy. Empathy should lie as the catalyst to leading through compassion; one must then take an emotional unbiased step back so they can see the bigger picture and lead with a clear perspective.

The challenge is thus understanding through empathy and making decisions, judgments and leading through compassion. Keeping these two altruistic traits separate is something leaders can struggle with as our natural, human urge is to fall into the trap of empathy.

So, how can we grow more compassionate leaders?

Communicate mindfully

Leadership cannot be effective without communication. Both listening and communicating effectively with a wide range of people across the organisation from different roles and social identities, directly effects the success of a business strategy. Learning to communicate better can improve your organisations' culture and make a happier workforce. Often people do not need solutions; they want to be heard and acknowledged. Sometimes no-action can be all the action an employee truly needs.

A good leader likewise needs to convey their vision across the organisation effectively. It's all well and good creating the perfect vision for change and generating support but getting all individuals on board with the ideas of change may require additional effort for long-term success. It is important to keep a high and effective level of communication throughout the business.

Listen to your employees. Being a leader does not mean you know it all. Listening to the professionals you have surrounded yourself with, who you trust to do the best job, with open up your own growth as well as theirs.

Further, listen to yourself employees when looking for area’s improvement. A changing environment can cause emotional upheaval; anticipating this and seeing the important signs when your employees provide feedback, can raise issues you may have not previously considered. Give people the room to express themselves!

A vision to adapt

Arguably the most important aspect of good leadership is the vision of the organisation. A good leader must be able to envisage what changes need to be made, how the organisation needs to perform differently and the methods with which they can get there to reach success. One must be adaptable in approach and be able to think outside the box, often going against competitors and traditional practises to find a new vision others can get behind.

This new vision may define what the organisation will look like with a new set of values. It is about seeing the ‘bigger picture’ of what is trying to be achieved when perhaps others are struggling to do so. Keeping tasks aligned with the overall objective and most importantly keeping employees motivated. A good leader must act as a transition between the before and after and offer options and alternatives for stakeholders so that they can understand, get on board and essentially see the end goal.

Thrive in your confidence

With change or even crisis comes questions. A good leader needs to inspire confidence in their employees and this comes with mindset. Making timely and decisive decisions in times of change can be difficult, however people look towards a good leader on how to move forward. Decide what is a priority and the impacts to the business and employees.

A successful leader wouldn’t expect their employees to commit to changes they are not fully on board with themselves. Successful leaders have full commitment to their own strategy and confidence in their employees’ approach and abilities. Keep confidence in your approach even when transitions are difficult. By looking ahead, you can anticipate issues and may see opportunities for innovation.

Leading with humour is no laughing joke

Workplace humour is often hard to get right, however, research shows that leaders with a sense of humour are 27% more effective, more motivating and their teams are more likely to be more bonded, adaptable and creative. Honing this humour is a great way for leaders to connect with their employees and inspire confidence and motivation. Research shows how 91% of executives believe a sense of humour is important for career advancement and 84% feel that people with a good sense of humour do a better job.

Humour is a superpower in business, now more than ever, especially with leaders. A cheerier workforce has overall positive effects on employee mental health; It is a buffer against negative effects of workplace stress. Laugher makes employees feel calmer and more bonded. We can do serious things without taking ourselves too seriously, laughter truly is the best medicine.

Keeping your workforce light-hearted can help with engagement levels, ease stress related to things like change, create new perspectives and enhance problem-solving skills. With a great shift in hybrid remote working, more people have become disconnected and feel lonelier from our colleagues, friends and families, it too can help foster better communication.

So, what makes good leadership?

Whilst the path to great leadership may seem like a complex list of changing attributes, these can be developed and honed. Great leaders are moulded through their experiences, education and continued adaptation and accept that change is inevitable. Leadership is a social process and by nurturing the strengths and talents of their employees and building team commitment, people can work collectively to achieve the best results together. It does not matter if you have areas of improvement, it's about recognising this and working towards being the best leader for your employees possible and remembering:

  • Be confident in your own vision

  • Ask what your employee needs

  • Remember the power of no-action

  • Coaching a person to find their own solution

  • Practising self-care

  • Take a mental and emotional step backwards

  • Remember humour can help when done right

  • Communicate mindfully

Building on any of these skills will give any good leader the foundations they need. Change can be hard and stressful even when it's a positive change like company growth, learning to embrace change and lead through it, it will inspire confidence in your employees and clients and result in a successfully evolved organisation.

Are you a leader looking to put your new skills to the test? Find your next role here.