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Matt Tenney, Contributor

Compassionate leadership is what you get when you mix traditional leadership skills with a hearty dose of empathy, sympathy, and compassion. 

Sympathy helps us feel sorrow for another’s misfortune. Empathy helps us understand and share the feelings of another. 

When we are compassionate, we move beyond feelings of sympathy and empathy, and take action to relieve the suffering of others. The compassionate leader doesn’t just dispense empathy, they take actions to relieve suffering.

Employees who work for compassionate managers are 25% more engaged in their work, 20% more committed to the organization, and 11% less likely to experience burnout. 

We can view compassionate leadership through the lens of servant leadership, as the principles of servant leadership provide an excellent guide for leaders looking for ways to demonstrate compassionate leadership in their organizations.

In this article, we’ll consider how the 10 principles of servant leadership can help leaders take compassionate actions to improve the lives of their employees. 

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of people
  10. Building Community

Listening

When employees feel their voice is heard, they are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work. Active listening is essential to helping employees do their best work and helps leaders interact with their team members compassionately. 

Employees need to feel heard to feel valued, especially during difficult times when they may be experiencing stress that makes it more difficult to do their jobs.

Servant leaders understand that listening to their teams is crucial for inspiring employees to do great work. Unbiased listening leads naturally to understanding, which is so important for building compassionate, trust-based relationships.

Empathy

A recent study by Catalyst found empathy may be one of the most important leadership skills because of its positive effects on innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, and work-life balance. It is also a central component of compassionate leadership. 

When we empathize, we understand and share the feelings of another person. Servant leaders seek not only to understand where their employees are coming from, they also seek to empathize with them to better serve them.

Servant leaders are compassionate leaders who listen with empathy, understand with empathy, lead with empathy, and encourage empathetic behaviors in their employees. 

Healing

According to Larry C. Spears, one of the great strengths of servant leadership is its potential for transformation through healing—healing of one’s self and one’s relationship to others. 

In “The Servant as Leaders,” Greenleaf said, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.” 

Servant leaders recognize that leadership provides them with the opportunity to improve people’s lives and help them overcome past hurts. With toxic workplace environments driving so much of the turnover we’ve seen with the Great Resignation, the ability to heal the wounds inflicted by negativity through compassion in the workplace is an essential leadership skill. 

Awareness

Self-awareness refers to a person’s ability to accurately perceive their emotions and remain aware of them as they occur, and it is essential to conscientious, mindful leadership.

Research from Dr. Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, found that while 95% of people think they are moderately or highly self-aware, less than 15% of people are actually self-aware.

A strong sense of self-awareness is indispensable to compassionate leaders. It guides them in all their actions and behaviors and helps them be more aware of the feelings of others so that they can take compassionate action. 

Persuasion

Servant leaders want to convince, not coerce, and work to build consensus on their teams. It’s not about getting employees to comply; it’s about getting them to understand the decision-making process and to be active participants in it.

In order to persuade someone, you first have to gain an understanding of where they are and what they need to be persuaded. 

The process of persuasion itself can be compassionate in that it helps a leader to gain a better understanding of their team members, which helps them respond to and interact with them in compassionate ways.

Conceptualization

While many managers often become so focused on achieving short-term operational goals that they miss the big picture view, servant leaders play the long game. 

They are able to achieve what needs to be achieved in the short-term while also taking in the big picture view that helps their teams strategize, find meaning in their work, and see its impact, which is vital to engaging employees. 

This big picture view helps leaders assess their team members’ current reality, identify with them in a compassionate way, respond to their needs, and see the positive impact their compassionate actions have on team members. 

Foresight

Foresight refers to the ability to foresee possible outcomes of situations and approaches to addressing those situations. It is closely linked with conceptualization. 

The ability to learn from past mistakes, an awareness and understanding of the current reality, and the ability to identify the pros and cons of a decision and its impact on both the organization and employees are part of foresight. 

Foresight helps compassionate leaders plan ahead in ways that take the needs of employees into consideration and act in ways that do not lead to suffering or unnecessary stress that could hurt performance or well-being.

Stewardship

Stewardship is all about working toward the greater good and is a demonstration of commitment to serving and meeting the needs of others. Servant leaders seek to improve the lives of team members through compassionate actions. 

A culture of stewardship helps employees find meaning and purpose in their work and makes them feel satisfied in their roles, committed to the organization’s success, and motivated to perform well. 

Stewardship is the ultimate guiding force of the servant leader as they tend to the growth and success of their teams and provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate compassion toward employees.

Commitment to the Growth of People

Servant leaders are committed to the growth of all their team members and interact with them in compassionate ways that facilitate and encourage growth and help employees remove obstacles on the path to growth. 

Servant leaders nurture the personal and professional growth of employees by providing opportunities for professional development. 

They also do this by establishing a healthy system of feedback, mentoring, coaching teams, and giving employees the autonomy they need to perform well and take ownership of their roles. 

Building Community

It can be difficult to build a strong sense of community at work, especially in large organizations, but this sense of community is so important to engaging employees, giving their work purpose, and supporting their mental well-being. 

Compassionate leaders recognize the importance of building community and forging connections that help those they lead to do their best work and live their best lives. 

Whether it is helping coworkers connect or helping the organization connect with the community it serves, it doesn’t have to be an ambitious undertaking; small actions by many have a profound impact. This is the key to compassionate leadership. 

 

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Matt Tenney is an active CEO who aspires to create the best workplace culture in the world.  Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence.  Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings.  His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.