WHY IS COMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP NECESSARY?
Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.
(Amy Edmonson, Harvard business school professor)
In the workplace, psychological safety is the shared belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risks as a group. These risks include speaking up when there is a problem with the team dynamics and sharing creative ideas, among others.
Edmondson first identified the concept of psychological safety in work teams in 1999. She says:
“Psychological safety is not about being nice, It is about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other. And she argues that kind of organizational culture is increasingly important in the modern economy.”
When leaders create psychologically safe environments, they create a culture in which people do not hesitate to speak up, ask questions and even make mistakes. This in turn leads to better communication, collaboration and even innovation. When people seek experimentation without fear of reprisal, they are more likely to admit mistakes, learn from them and try harder to push further in their ideas and solutions. Great leaders are fair in assigning work responsibilities, deciding on promotions and sponsoring employees.
The 2019 People Management Report found that managers who create psychologically safe work environments are less likely to experience employee turnover on their teams. If you want to retain top performers, ensure psychological safety across the whole company. Like any major initiative, it needs to start at the top with executive buy-in.
For inspiration see professor Amy Edmondson’s TEDTalk on “Building a psychologically safe workplace.” Click here.
1. EMBRACING FAILURE AND VULNERABILITY
A compassionate leader leads with vulnerability. They accept mistakes and shift the focus in the organisation/team from hiding mistakes to finding solutions. When they don’t know something, instead of pretending to hide their ignorance, they say “I don’t know”. These three powerful words show humility and self-confidence.
A compassionate leader is not only focused on success but they understand that the path to success goes through failure. So instead of hiding behind their failures, they face them head-on. Failures do not define their competence, they embrace them as moments of self-reflection. They are opportunities to build skills, explore possibilities, experiment and invest in the promise of a better future.
This skill is crucial and can be applied in the virtual space on both an individual and group/team level where open communication can be encouraged.
2. THE POWER OF BEING MINDFULLY PRESENT
Giving people your full attention by being present instead of being distracted by your thoughts makes them feel heard, valued and respected. This in turn inspires them to share their ideas, listen intently to others and collaborate instead of taking a one-sided view of a conversation. Great leaders speak less and listen more. By allowing others to express themselves and listening to their viewpoints, they build a deep sense of connection to their people thereby enabling trust and a sense of mutual respect.
Celeste Headlee writes in We Need to Talk: “It only takes one good conversation to change your understanding of someone else’s world, your world, and the world at large.”
Being present is a leadership quality that makes great leaders inspire, motivate and bring out the best in their people.
This can be challenging in both a virtual and face-to-face space and will have to be a conscious decision to fully engage with an individual team member or a group. The manager will need to maintain eye contact at all times in a “camera on” situation and be mindful of other distractions such as attending to emails or phone messages while talking with the team/individual. Being mindful means being 100% in the moment.
3. WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE IF THE LEADER IS CURIOUS ABOUT DIFFERENCES?
Difficult situations make them uncomfortable, no doubt. Instead of letting their discomfort get in the way of meaningful conversations, they embrace it. They choose to look past their discomfort in the value that these discussions provide – saving a lot of time that can be wasted due to stress and anxiety that comes from misalignment of expectations and lack of clarity of purpose.
They are tough but compassionate. They do not shy away from giving critical feedback while also challenging the people in their organisation to step outside their comfort zone. They empower people to make decisions with the right channels of feedback to assist in better decision making in the organisation.
4. BEING AN EXAMPLE IN SELF-CARE
Leaders who practise self-care build small habits that compound in the future – eating healthy, exercising, investing time in reading, sleeping better or anything else to take care of themselves. These practices may seem insignificant on a specific day, but when calibrated over weeks, months and years, they yield a significant return in a leader’s ability to think clearly and lead effectively. By practising kindness and care towards themselves, great leaders can show compassion towards others.
An important aspect of self-care in leadership is to encourage and invite similar behaviour in the team to allow them to “see” you as a person. Managers in a virtual space can ensure some discussion on what everyone is doing for themselves on the day or that particular week. There can be a wellness check-in or an exercise interrupt during virtual meetings such as: “let us all stand up and stretch” or “let us grab a glass of water”. Share a video link or interesting article on what they can do while working from home.
Leadership is a journey, a path committed to learning and practising these leadership qualities day in and day out. Anyone can call themselves a leader, but only a few are worthy of being great.
These leadership qualities are essential in light of the research that indicates that employees do not leave organisations but leave managers or more accurately, because of managers.
When a leader leads with vulnerability, they can say and do the following without shame:
· Say I don’t know and then say I need help: Be the person who doesn’t have all the answers but is keen to find the right ones.
· Accept you made a mistake, share your learnings: Accept you are infallible like everyone else, but you don’t hide behind it. You own your mistakes and do not hesitate to share your learnings with others.
· Be flexible to change your opinion: You do not associate your identity with your opinion. What matters to you is making the right decision.
· Embrace conflict even if it is uncomfortable: You do not let discomfort stop you from doing the right thing which is to have the conversation at the right time with the right person.
· Say you are scared: You do not put on armour and pretend to be confident even when you are scared. Accepting your fears helps you see the true reality of your situation.
· Hit decline (no) more often than hitting accept (yes): You do not act out of your desire to please others. You believe in creating true value and that requires saying no often.
· Share you are a work in progress: You are not perfect and your desire to learn and grow is your biggest strength to help you be the person you wish to becom