In today’s highly competitive, ever-changing marketplace, focusing attention on the fulfilment and well-being of your employees can seem like a luxury. The truth is you can’t afford not to.

According to a recent CDC report, 200 million workdays are lost each year in the U.S, due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This comes at a cost to employers of $17 to $44 billion a year.

The bottom line is a happy team is more productive, uses fewer sick days, and has less turn-over. Leaders who show empathy and compassion aren’t just a nice-to-have… they are essential to the growth of your organization’s bottom line.

“Compassionate leaders honor the complexity of human relationships, nurture authenticity and create common grounds for blooming great ideas of individuals.”

– Amit Ray, author of Mindfulness Meditation for Corporate Leadership and Management

As a professional who has always strived to show love and compassion both at home and in the workplace this topic is near and dear to me. When trying to motivate, inspire or even just relay a simple message, leading with empathy and compassion is usually the best way to go.

Many years ago I heard a conference speaker announce that our EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is just as important as (or possibly even more important than) our IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

While this wasn’t a new idea, it was both new and profound to me. It served as a refreshing reminder that I wasn’t alone in my quest to bring compassionate leadership into the workplace.

In this guide I will outline:

  • What compassionate leadership means
  • The characteristics of a compassionate leader
  • And, the benefits of compassionate leadership

What does compassionate leadership mean?

Many of the abilities that are more often associated with great leadership, which include decisiveness, intellectual intelligence, and vision, are all skills derived from the head.

As a leader, it’s highly likely these are skills you already possess.

These types of skills allow leaders to successfully motivate and guide their staff enabling them to perform at the top of their game.

However, by focusing a little more on attributes that come from the heart, for example showing compassion, self-awareness, mindfulness, empathy, care, and emotional intelligence, you will begin to build the skills of being a fully-rounded, compassionate and more holistic leader; and in turn, take your performance to the next level.

The following list outlines a few of the negative characteristics employed by some leaders:

  • Micromanagement
  • Manipulation
  • Dishonesty
  • Demands
  • Frustration
  • Put downs

These negative characteristics are very likely to have adverse effects, not only on the workforce – but the business as a whole, if your leaders don’t know how to be compassionate or how to show compassion.

This kind of leadership will undoubtedly lead to negative attitudes within the workforce, lack of motivation and more importantly, the increased costs incurred with high employee turnover.

Self-aware leaders who are able to put themselves in the shoes of others will be able to:

1. Recognize individuality

A leader practicing compassion is aware of the individuality of each team member and how this benefits their team and the entire organization

2. Show Support

Compassionate leaders always work to increase the happiness and well-being of each team member by giving them direct, one-on-one support

3. Not focus on short term gains

This style of leadership is not merely focused on the short-term, but on the long-term development of each individual team member providing a lasting benefit to the organization as a whole.

Now that we’ve explored what being a compassionate leader looks like, let’s dive deeper into some real examples of compassion in the workplace.

Characteristics of a compassionate leader

Great leaders inspire others to greatness. When leaders reconnect with their compassionate nature the result is a stronger connection among the team members. The following section outlines the attributes of exceptional leaders.

Willing to Learn

A true compassionate leader is open to learning from others, regardless of the person’s position or status within the company. They appreciate and are grateful for others who offer ideas and creative solutions that they can learn from.

Alternatively, leaders who are closed off to the wealth of information around them limit their growth and will stagnate. This will, of course, negatively impact their employees, team members, and departments.

Effective leadership requires the ability to take in new knowledge from those around them.

Influences and Encourages

While some leaders simply display authority, a compassionate leader looks for opportunities to influence and encourage others.

By encouraging their team members while guiding with empathy and care, they inspire hope. This promotes a feeling of comradery among the team that inspires innovation, creating a desire to combine their talents, skills and important insights.

Inspires Passion

Exceptional leaders are those who are able to inspire their team to feel passionate about the projects they take on. They realize that individuals dedicated to tackle a task with purpose and enthusiasm will consistently deliver positive results that benefit both the team itself and the organization as whole.

Upholds Ethics

Compassionate leaders hold themselves to high standards and have a strong sense of ethics. Furthermore, they expect the same from their team members.

A leader with high standards and strong ethics builds trust and inspires confidence in their team and those around them.

Puts people over process

When leaders can see the value in the people in their organization in favor of processes, it has great benefits.

By being the sort of manager who only views processes as being important, by insisting on prescriptively sticking to the letter of the “usual way of doing things”, they’ll likely only manage to inspire mediocre results within the team.

Choosing people over the process will ensure exciting news developments which may ultimately save time and reduce costs.

Benefits of compassionate leadership

Working on empathy and other related skills has often been thought of as a soft skill.

However, building these leadership qualities which rely on self-awareness and having the ability to relate to others can bring huge rewards to not only their team but also the organization as a whole.

Let’s take a look below at some of the most important benefits.

Compassionate leaders:

  • Are more engaging, and can create higher levels of overall employee engagement
  • Inspire working together and more collaboration within organizations
  • Are able to build robust relationships built on trust
  • Contribute to lower rates of employee turnover
  • Inspire their people to feel more connected to one another
  • Create environments where employees feel a greater sense of commitment to their organizations
  • Are viewed by others as ‘strong’
  • Increases profits by keeping staff turnover cost down
  • Inspire staff to be more creative

Those leaders who have taken the time to nurture their compassionate side and bring it with them on a daily basis to the workplace and their dealings with others will set the bar higher.

Not only will it benefit them personally in terms of better relationships with co-workers and the teams they manage, but it also stands to benefit the company itself and all those within the organization.

To conclude…

While many may see empathy and compassion as nice-to-haves or even naively sentimental, it is becoming much more clear that it is these essential, interpersonal skills that truly separate the mediocre from the exceptional leaders.