The Importance of Leading With Compassion, Especially Right Now

Supporting your team during challenging times starts as small as a daily check-in.

Flamingo Images / Shutterstock
Flamingo Images / Shutterstock

Given all that is going on these days and the intense level of uncertainty in our world, many people are understandably feeling scared, angry, sad, and more.  One of the best things we can do to address this and support everyone around us, including ourselves, is to lead with compassion.

As I talk about in my new book, We’re All in This Together, I’ve heard compassion described as “empathy in action.” While empathy is about understanding and feeling the emotions of others, compassion is about wanting to contribute to their happiness and well-being. Compassion, therefore, is more proactive, which means we can make a habit of it. Teams that intentionally and habitually show compassion to one another are more connected and successful. In operating with compassion, we’re demonstrating our care for each other in a specific, overt, and powerful way.

In an interview for Psychology Today in April 2018, Chris Kukk, professor of political and social science at Western Connecticut State University and author of The Compassionate Achiever, said, “Success is often associated with the individualistic idea of only looking out for number one. However, even Darwin suggested that the most efficient and effective species have the highest number of sympathetic members.”

According to Kukk’s research, compassion helps build resilience, improve physical health, and is a consistent characteristic of success—individually and collectively. Teams that create a culture of compassion are more likely to be engaged, innovative, and collaborative with one another, and to perform at their best.

I had a chance to interview Scott Shute on my podcast. Scott was the VP of global customer operations at LinkedIn for six years—leading an organization of 1,000 people. His interest in leadership, culture, and performance led him to take on a new role in 2018 as the head of mindfulness and compassion programs. Scott and his team have implemented programs to support the people, leaders, and groups at LinkedIn to expand their awareness and skills. “One of the biggest skills needed to achieve our vision at LinkedIn is compassion,” he said. “We believe that compassion is not just a better way to live, it’s a better way to build a team and grow a business that is successful, sustainable, and has a positive impact in the world.”

Kindness, like compassion, is something we can cultivate, nurture, and practice. Different from being “nice,” which we previously discussed, being kind is about consciously and authentically choosing to be friendly, supportive, generous, and considerate toward our teammates (and everyone else we work and interact with). According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, people who were treated kindly at work repaid it by being 278 percent more generous to co-workers compared to a control group.

The great thing about both kindness and compassion is that they’re contagious. The more willing we are to be compassionate and kind to our fellow team members, the more likely they are to be that way with us and everyone else on the team. And, as we consistently and deliberately practice compassion and kindness with the people on our team, we demonstrate our care for them and contribute to a culture that can allow us all to achieve our best results.

Here are a few things you can do to cultivate compassion and kindness right now:

1. Check in with people – Ask people how they are doing, and give them the space to really answer.  Being interested in others and their well-being is one of the best ways we can let them know we care and it is the embodiment of compassion and kindness.

2. Listen without giving advice – What most people want more than anything else, especially right now, is to be seen and heard.  When we listen to people with empathy and hold back from giving them advice, unless then specifically ask for it, we let them know we care about and value them.

3. Share how you’re feeling with vulnerability – The nature human response to vulnerability is empathy.  The more willing we are to share our authentic feelings with others, the safer they’ll feel to do the same with us.  And, when we operate with vulnerability it liberates us, connects us authentically with those around us, and encourages compassion all the way around.

Feel free to leave any comments below, or directly on my blog.

* This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020

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