Elephant? What Elephant?

Yes there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s called “Compassionate Management Is Weak.”

Often when I talk about compassionate management in professional settings someone raises the concern that a compassionate leader is, or can be seen as, weak or vulnerable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Compassion demands bravery in the face of difficulty and being resolute in the face of challenges. Compassion is not for the faint of heart - rather, it demands that we are lionhearted.

Compassion connects us with our fellow human beings.

“Look after your people and they will look after your business.” - Sir Richard Branson

Compassionate leaders understand this and can and will make the tough calls when needed. But they will also treat colleagues, friends and family in a way that enables them to create their best work and life.

Mark Bertolini, Former Aetna Chairman and CEO is an excellent example of a compassionate leader.

When he realized Aetna’s staff were struggling to make ends meet he increased the minimum wage and instituted wellness programs, at a yearly hard cost of $75 million to the company.

Staff wellbeing improved, and so did the company’s stock price: from $30 to $153 per share.

No-one could accuse Mark of being soft or weak. He had to sell that strategy to the Board, with no precedent to fall back on. That’s not for the fainthearted.

“Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The inimitable RBG understood that compassionate leadership is about fighting for the things we care about in ways that enroll our colleagues, friends and clients in our future vision.

It’s about taking a stand for what’s good not just for us but for the wider community. It’s about creating moments of engagement and flow that enable peak performance, not just for us personally, but for those around us as well.

And it’s about building and aligning a team and community with something bigger than ourselves, which gives our work and lives meaning.

None of us succeed alone.

And there is power in numbers.

Josh Weiner, former CEO of LInkedIn, talked about compassionate management a lot. He defined it as a blend of two things:

  • Not letting others off the hook, meaning ensuring we take the steps and make the effort to be curious, ask questions, have the difficult conversations, get to the bottom of things and hold others accountable for their actions, and
  • Not letting ourselves off the hook, meaning holding ourselves accountable in the same way.

Taking the compassionate approach helps us avoid knee-jerk reaction judgments of good vs bad or right vs wrong, and gives us much more information to work with.

And in doing so, we are more able to enroll others in our vision and mission. Strength in numbers.

Self-Compassion, The Hardest Compassion Of All

Most importantly, compassionate management extends not just to those in our sphere of influence, but also to ourselves.

Is your inner voice your harshest critic, or your best friend?

If you’re like the vast majority of humanity, it’s likely the former.

You probably would NEVER use your inner critic voice on anyone in real life, and certainly not your best friend.

Perhaps you've used it online.

Perhaps you have used it on colleagues or family in a moment of pique.

And perhaps right afterwards you dialed up the volume on that sucker and pointed it back on yourself.

Self-attack is so easy to do.

This is where self-compassion comes in.

Unsurprisingly it is the bedrock on which compassionate management is built.

Just as compassion doesn’t equal acquiescence or weakness, neither does self-compassion.

Self-compassion is not about letting ourselves off the hook – quite the contrary, it’s about holding ourselves accountable while extending kindness and understanding towards ourselves. Just as you would towards your best friend.

That, again, is not for the fainthearted.

And, it’s the key to elegantly quitting the overwhelm-productivity see-saw (teeter-totter for my American friends). More on that topic in a later post.

When compassion begins, you’re stating different problems than what you started with, and creating solutions that you never even dreamed of.

Here's what I've seen happen for clients I've worked with:

- Self-compassion helps maintain motivation in the face of challenges.

- It enables us to bounce back faster from setbacks and regain a sense of inner balance.

- Applying compassion to the day-to-day and to the toughest career challenges and brings new ideas and creative solutions to the table.

You'll likely find alternative solutions and a future vision that helps you move towards your version of success with more ease and confidence.

Cultivating compassion is easy to begin.

Here’s how:

Begin by taking a moment to settle your body into a comfortable position. Rest your eyes on something pleasing to look at, or if you feel comfortable to, close them. Allow your spine to lift and your shoulders to soften.

Take a full breath in and let a long slow breath out.

Bring to mind someone that you care about. Imagine them well and happy. Say to yourself: May they be well. May they be happy.

Bring to mind someone else that you care about. Imagine them well and happy. Say to yourself: May they be well, may they be happy.

With that same sense of care, kindness and generosity that you felt for another, invite a sense of well being for yourself.

May I be well, may I be happy.

Over the next few breaths allow these offerings of kindness and goodwill to sink in. Notice how that feels In the body.

Finish with a full deep breath in and a long slow breath out.

Compassion is like muscle memory.

The more we practice compassion, the more accessible it becomes. And, in time, it becomes a habit that allows us to maintain our composure in the most difficult of circumstances. In those moments we are able to show great courage and make hard decisions.

Compassion stays with us.

Like an elephant, we never forget.

Hanna Steplewska MSc is the Founder and CEO of EVA Strategies, a coaching and consulting firm. Hanna helps multifaceted humans — engineers, scientists, financiers, writers and creatives — feel confident and thrive during professional challenges and up-levels. Hanna delivers exceptional results through private Coaching, group Workshops and virtual and in-person Keynotes.

EVA is a nod to Hanna’s aerospace and oceanography background, a reference to Wall-E’s object of desire and a reminder to *not* keep arms and legs in the vehicle at all times.

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