Making Room for Compassion

Do you know why you matter? What about your team? Knowing that will determine how feedback is received - with reflection or anger.

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Here’s a question for you. Can you make space for compassion if you’re not good with why you matter?

I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday as I went through my morning routine. Today she was interviewing the CEO of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner. His message throughout the interview was to lead with compassion. He suggested to put yourself in the other people’s shoes and think about how they might react to the situation. Before you give feedback to someone, look in the mirror and give yourself the same feedback. He even talks about the most difficult of conversations, how to tell someone they’re no longer right for a role.

“In 20 years of managing people, not once has anyone ever come to me and said they couldn’t do their job. Not one single time. It’s not their job. It’s the role of the manager.”

I’ve been on both sides of that conversation. It’s never easy.

Oprah and Jeff have an amazing conversation, clearly, and is worth a listen. There is, however, I think, a missing element to this conversation. It’s the conversation about the compassionate leader and why they matter.

Oprah and Jeff talked briefly about ego and covered at length that you should put the other person first. However, they didn’t talk about how impossibly hard it is to take yourself out of the equation. How to make your reaction to the situation at hand and put your “ego” aside for the other. It’s easy to say “be compassionate,” it’s a whole other thing actually to follow through.

Let me suggest that the first step towards compassionate leadership is to be good with you. You need to have humble confidence (and yes, the word humble is there for a reason) about why you matter.

Take a moment and walk through this exercise: You (the boss) are giving an employee some feedback about how they might do better. I’m sure you have someone you know who you owe some uncomfortable feedback. Jeff suggests that we “look in the mirror and give yourself the feedback first.” It’s excellent advice, but now I’d like you to take this exercise a step further. Instead of giving yourself the feedback, replace yourself with your boss.

How does that feel? Seriously, how would you feel if your boss was the one giving you that same feedback? Not you, your boss, the person who ultimately holds most influence when it comes to what you get to do each and every day.

I ran through this exercise myself using former managers and similar feedback. When I wasn’t confident about how I mattered with the manager, when I felt that they didn’t “get” me, my reaction was mostly anger. Anger towards the manager. If I’m totally honest, the narrative in my head was “their problem, not mine.”

When I was confident about how I mattered with the manager, when I knew they saw and appreciated me for who I was (flaws included,) my reaction was self-reflection. My narrative leaned to “how can I do better?” and desire to ask more questions.

As managers, aren’t we always going for the second result? It’s time to learn how each member of your team matters.

I have a request: I’d love you to run through the “do I matter” thought process I talked about. I’m curious about the reactions you had in the two scenarios. Were your examples as dramatically different as mine? Did you have different emotions?

Compassionate leadership is a great idea. I’m a fan. But I think you need to start with these two questions:

  1. Can you make space for compassion if you’re not good with why you matter?
  2. Can you make space to lead compassionately if your team doesn’t understand why they uniquely matter?
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