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Compassionate Leadership

Last week I wrote about the positive correlation between a leader’s character and financial returns.  This week I discuss the value of a compassionate leader.  Similarly, Christina Boedker of the Australian School of Business found a ‘positive link between productivity and compassionate leadership.’

She found the ‘greatest influence on profitability and productivity is the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognizing their people.’  By being compassionate, she means an ability to understand people and allowing them to be as good as they can be.  This is quite an art.  “It’s about valuing people and being receptive and responsive to criticism.”

Further, Geoff Aigner in Leadership Beyond Good Intentions, asserts that ‘good management is ultimately an act of compassion.’  In using the term compassion, Mr. Aigner means someone who takes responsibility ‘for the growth and development of others.’

But can’t compassion be confused for kindness, which isn’t a term associated with success in business?  People do indeed confuse the two terms.  Yet, when it comes to business, you do need to be — as the old rock song noted –‘cruel to be kind.’  Allowing someone, for example, to move ahead despite inadequate performance is not good for either the individual or the organization.  Failure to address the problem is not an act of kindness — it is either an act of deferral or an unwillingness to have the hard conversation.  By being honest, direct, and holding back the rancor, you can be kind despite delivering an uncomfortable message.  Indeed, you have to do so if you want to be compassionate, as sooner or later, the individual will be told by someone that his or her performance is sub-par.

What else do we know about compassionate leaders?  They:

  • Spend more time and effort managing their people
  • Have clear values and practice what they preach
  • Encourage employee development and learning
  • Welcome criticism and feedback as learning opportunities

To achieve the productivity gains associated with improved financial returns, ‘all managers must show great compassion.’  What this means, according to Mr. Aigner, and I’m a firm believer in this, is we ‘…need to ask our managers to use our power as individuals responsibly.   Using power responsibly makes us compassionate.’  Learning how to behave this way is the role of a leader who exudes character.

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