5 Steps To Cultivate Compassion In Leadership

Learn from a Stanford Business School professor what 5 steps leaders should be taking to cultivate compassion in their organization.

The following is a guest piece by Stanford professor Dr. Leah Weiss.

Modern leadership training is being taken over by a clever but misguided trend. One that’s filled with yoga rooms and entertainment-infused buffet lunches. It’s a train that many corporations are jumping onto, but the intent is often confused and therefore the execution is weak.

The idea that organizations will successfully attract the best talent by peddling a laid-back compassionate culture is bound to fail. It will fail because it leaves the heavy lifting required in actually impactful leadership cultivation relegated to the role of little more than an afterthought.

Granted, some cultures actually get it right (Zappos is a great example) but most are still getting it very, very, wrong. Injecting a dose of compassion into a toxic or muddled corporate culture isn’t going to through entertainment and perks is bound to fail. That’s because strong leadership and a healthy culture requires an integrated approach to compassion – it can’t be a half-assed afterthought.

Real compassion in the context of leadership and corporate culture comes down to seeking, hiring, and developing leaders that earnestly give a damn about colleagues, communities, the larger world. It is doable – and here’s how to make it happen.

1. Hire With Intent
Hiring based on technical (or “hard”) skills is important, but equally as important is recognizing a candidate’s soft skills. Things like creativity, the ability to problem solve, demonstrated intellectual humility, and compassion must be at the top of the list next to any software or degreed accolades. Soft skills are trickier to recognize but can be seen by asking candidates to problem-solve on the spot (much in the way that Google does with its hiring methods).

2. Make Role and Purpose Clear
A recent study found that 64% of people have no idea what their job is. Instead of hiring leadership based on recommendations and resumes, hire based on a clear understanding of what a person’s role is. Ask leaders to detail what their tasks will be, what they should commit to, and point out how they fit into a company’s culture.

Further, make sure that leaders understand the larger puzzle. Each person within an organization has a specific purpose and fulfills a specific piece of the larger puzzle. Leaders must understand how everyone within a team fits and be able to explain that precise piece to employees at every turn. The blind leading the blind is a recipe for disaster.

3. Cultivate Compassion
It’s hard to break away from the mindset that compassion has no place in the work space. But studies have shown that genuinely caring about a co-worker or employee has a positive impact on a company’s bottom-line. A culture that has a base of compassion also fosters employees that are more engaged, happier, and less stressed.

Employees that enjoy being at work – and included in a culture built on compassion – are more productive and efficient. Constructing a culture with compassion at its core begins with leadership training and this can’t be stressed enough.

Leaders must first learn self-compassion and then learn how to effectively spread those same considerations to employees. The other interesting thing about compassion training is that it’s contagious – it begins with leadership and spreads rapidly through a culture resulting in a happier and more productive company.

4. Build A Safe Place
The workplace should be a safe place. It should be an environment where employees feel okay to share things like feelings and speak up when something is bothersome, invasive, or misunderstood. Safe corporate culture doesn’t have to come with cuddle rooms, but it does have to come with team meetings that are open and honest.

Leadership training should be based on the development of a safe space. Employees, as well as leaders, should be able to speak up at any turn and not feel unsafe, judged, or fearful.

5. Fix a Broken Culture
A culture that has run rampant for too long might seem unfixable, but even disastrous culture stories make great lessons. It is possible to turn a toxic culture around by reframing leadership education and goals and by hiring new leaders that embody soft skills. This begins with training and development that is rooted in the tenants of purpose, mindfulness, and compassion.

In an ideal world, toxic cultures can be turned around with existing leadership intact through compassion training. But we can’t be blind idealists. Firing leadership across the board isn’t the answer though some leaders may not adjust to new cultural concepts. A mix of old and new is often the hiring formula required to move away from culture of fear and uncertainty towards a culture of care.

Leah Weiss, Ph.D. is a Stanford Business School Professor, corporate consultant, and speaker. Leah is an expert in corporate mindfulness, compassion, and purpose. She is also author of the book “How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind”. To learn more about Leah’s work, visit her website at www.leahweissphd.com.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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