Leaders must adopt compassionate leadership to equip their organisations with the resilience they will need to survive beyond the pandemic, according to US entrepreneur Yolanda Lau.
In a recent update from the Forbes Human Resources Council, Lau – founder and chief talent officer at project-based consultancy FlexTeam – provides nine tips on how to lead with grace and compassion, encouraging leaders firstly to embrace self-awareness and self-compassion. (Lau via Forbes, 7 December 2020)
“Start by being aware that the events of the world have affected you,” she advises, “and give yourself compassion for how you have reacted. Working 80-hour weeks is not sustainable for you or for your team. Deciding to furlough and/or lay off employees is emotionally draining, especially when these are people whom you’ve worked with for a long time who have become like family.”
She notes: “Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself the gift of grace. Be kind to yourself. Practicing self-compassion is the first step to compassionate leadership.”
Lau also urges leaders to practice active, compassionate listening, especially with their immediate teams and direct reports. “Listen attentively when your employees speak,” she writes, “taking care to defer judgment. Ask pertinent, open-ended questions and paraphrase when appropriate to show your genuine desire to come to a mutually beneficial understanding.”
Lau points out: “Active listening can build strong relationships and help employees feel less isolated. While many of us are working remotely and decreasing our social interactions, many of us need to feel more connected to others. In addition, during challenging times, it’s more important than ever to insist on regular one-to-one meetings.”
Among her other tips, Lau recommends that leaders should:
- practice and hone emotional intelligence;
- develop a gratitude mindset;
- promote mindfulness, and
- embrace curiosity, open-mindedness and innovation.
Her advice chimes with new research from the Institute of Leadership & Management – to be published on Wednesday 16 December – which highlights a shift in organisational priorities: in the next decade, 28% of third-sector bodies and 20% of private-sector firms expect their biggest focus to be on valuing their staff.
What will enable that shift to compassionate leadership flourish more widely as we head into 2021?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s chief executive John Mark Williams says: “If we look at those percentages of third-sector bodies and private-sector firms that expect their biggest focus in the next decade to be on valuing their staff, I’m not sure I’d describe that as a shift in priorities. The numbers just aren’t big enough yet. And I think a key challenge we’re facing here is a one of language.”
He explains: “If we think about some of the tips that Lau recommends – for example, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, curiosity and innovation – they are terms with which the third sector, private sector and public sector are all very familiar. They don’t detract from notions of operational success. However, when Lau turns to the idea of a gratitude mindset, I’m not entirely sure what that means.
“This is one of the key challenges for compassionate leadership: as an ethos, is an absolute prerequisite for businesses and organisations going into the future. But much of the language around it is not actually orientated towards business outcomes or practical outcomes.”
Williams notes: “In the current climate – with private-sector firms under huge stress, and third-sector bodies finding it difficult to attract or sustain support and donations – the focus is much more on ‘survive’ than ‘thrive’. This moment requires far more big businesses and large organisations to publicly get on board with the principles of compassionate leadership, so that some of the things that Lau is expressing as recommendations can be demonstrated as effective in business terms. Because they are effective.”
He adds: “A workforce or team of employees that has wellbeing at the heart of its leadership and management is a much better performing one. So, it’s a case of getting the language right for people to champion and validate these principles amid the situation we’re facing.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on resilience