Having a compassionate approach to leadership does not mean lowering standards or allowing employees to make excuses for their shortcomings. It means developing an ability to see situations from other people’s perspectives and understanding their feelings.
It is at the core of effective communication, influence, motivation, and problem solving. While compassionate leadership is heart-centered and has grown with the increasing popularity of emotional intelligence and mindfulness principles, it is nonetheless a powerful method to increase work performance in a traditional sense.
Many leaders in higher education understand the concept of compassionate leadership and make an effort to listen actively to others to understand their perspectives when issues don’t seem black and white. However, when they believe something is clearly right or clearly wrong, they tend to be less open-minded. Their judgment creates a strong attachment to being right and prevents them from hearing what others have to say.
When someone insists on being right, they automatically make other people wrong. They will argue for their perspective and dismiss what others are trying to communicate. Both parties will try to dominate and get the other to change their mind, but neither truly listen. That creates defensiveness, conflict, and resistance while damaging professional relationships and collaboration. When employees and colleagues feel dismissed, they are less likely to continue to do their best and contribute more. Morale suffers and negative consequences snowball.
Seeking To Understand
A compassionate leader does not label perspectives as being right or wrong. They understand the complexity of each situation and look for ways to address concerns without alienating people in the process. Their focus is on making people feel heard and understanding their needs. Once they understand what is happening in the other person’s mind and heart, it becomes easier to find solutions acceptable to both parties.
Addressing Individual Needs
To have a successful professional relationship with someone and empower them to do their best work, it is essential to understand what they need to feel safe, motivated, and engaged.
For example, people who have a strong need for security and predictability will thrive when their supervisor makes an effort to communicate abundantly and answer their questions about what is happening and what can be expected. They need a stable leader who exhibits congruent behaviors rather than impulsive decision making or unpredictable reactions to events.
While some employees love routine and predictability, others have a strong need for variety and will want to be trusted with new projects to avoid getting bored. These employees enjoy challenges that keep them from losing interest in their jobs. Their supervisors should remember to expose them to new ideas and tasks on a regular basis.
Similarly, some employees love to learn new things and grow. For them, it is essential to see progression in their skill set and expertise. They will be highly motivated by opportunities to do new projects, participate in professional development activities, and work with people who can teach them and mentor them. Their supervisors should take interest in their career, give them opportunities to step up to new challenges, and express their potential.
Higher education tends to attract people who want to be servant leaders because they find tremendous meaning and fulfillment in being of service. These individuals need opportunities to contribute and will be more motivated when they can see the result of their efforts on students or employees than if their work is indirectly related to helping others. Their supervisors can improve their job satisfaction by showing them the positive impact they have on others.
Many employees love to feel connected to their coworkers and develop friendships on campus. Some go as far as thinking of their coworkers as their family. They are often very loyal to their institutions and reluctant to seek employment elsewhere. To keep them motivated and engaged, their supervisors have to understand the importance of showing that they care about them, far beyond their work performance. It is not necessary to spend much time on small talk but taking a moment to make the employee feel seen and appreciated will go a long way. They will also need opportunities to work in teams and feel part of something greater than them. If they are forced to work in silos and don’t interact with others, their job satisfaction will suffer.
Let’s not forget about employees who have a strong need to feel significant. Many of them attach their identity and self-worth to their accomplishments. Giving praise when it is earned will be essential to keep them motivated. On the other hand, forgetting to give them credit for their work or dismissing their input would be particularly damaging. It is very important for them to feel special and they will need opportunities to shine and be recognized individually rather than as part of a team.
The Root of Disagreements
When two people disagree it is often because they are trying to meet different needs and fail to understand the emotional reasons that cause another person’s perspective. When someone who needs variety has to work with someone who needs predictability, disagreements can be expected. One may be want to innovate while the other refuses to do something new. They can only come to an agreement once they understand that they are not arguing about the merit of the innovative concept but about their level of comfort doing something new. Fears will have to be identified so that both parties can be reassured and work together successfully.
When someone who needs connection and relationships is paired with someone who seeks significance, they are likely to clash. The more independent person will fail to make the other feel connected and appreciated. One may prefer collaboration while the other prefers competition. It will be essential to address strategically their emotional needs in order to prevent conflict and allow them to work together effectively.
Conflict resolution often fails because people focus on the issue visible on the surface rather than what emotions are being triggered. For example, when two people argue about classroom use, it is rarely about the features of the classroom in question but more often about the personalities, egos, and power dynamics.
When someone opposes an idea, it may not be because of the idea’s lack of merit but because of the discomfort that comes with change and unpredictability. When an employee is unwilling to work in teams, it is not a sign of insubordination but a need for individual achievement and recognition.
Compassionate leaders make an effort to see and feel situations from other people’s perspectives before making decisions. They know that humans are emotional creatures, not robots, and it would be delusional to expect employees to be one hundred percent rational at all times.
Embracing compassionate leadership is a powerful way to reduce conflict, make better informed decisions, increase collaboration, foster loyalty, improve morale, and achieve a higher level of excellence. If you would like to work with me on becoming a more compassionate and more effective leader, click here to schedule a free phone consultation.
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.