Compassion: The ultimate leadership trait of 2021

What do we mean when we talk about compassion?

Compassion: The ultimate leadership trait of 2021

What do we mean when we talk about compassion? Traditionally, it’s not a word you’d associate with the corporate world. But, thanks to a leadership overhaul and a shift in employer priorities, that is changing.

Many signs point to 2021 as the year of the compassionate leader. And, considering the chaos we’ve just lived through, it’s not a minute too soon.

HR leaders have always championed the need for empathy in managing employees — for leading with emotional intelligence and understanding. However, it’s taken a global pandemic and the rising mental-health crisis to usher in a new era of people-centric, human-focused leadership.

HRD spoke to Renée Charles and Tamisha Parris of diversity-consulting firm Parris Consulting, and speakers at UKG’s upcoming webinar — Leading with Compassion — to understand how best to practice compassion during these times.

“I think people conceptually understand what compassion is,” prefaced Charles. “After all, most people have expressed or demonstrated compassion in their personal lives. There’s just this slight disconnect between understanding compassion and actually bringing it into the workplace.

“In many organizations, there exists a culture where each morning we wake up, strap on our capes, and show up for the day as a superhero. We push ourselves to be perfect, to meet all deadlines, fulfil all quotas, and exceed expectations. For many of us, we wear this ability to navigate chaos as a badge of honour — but there’s a price to pay for that. There’s a real opportunity for leaders and organizations to recognize the importance of compassion when dealing with people — because before we are workers, or contributors, or employees, we are human.”

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This notion of compassion as a core component of culture isn’t necessarily new — however, this is the first time we’re seeing a universal shift toward emotional intelligence in leadership.

A recent global study by Saatchi found that the empathy deficit in business costs large-scale companies $300 million in revenue each year. What’s more, a report from Management Research Group also verified that compassion was akin to good leadership — labelling it as one of the strongest predictors of executive effectiveness.

Why then are employers so slow on the uptake?

“In organizations today, the focus tends to be primarily on the work, which means we forget that there are human beings doing this work,” explained Charles. “When we give people permission to be human, they have a green light to be vulnerable. They have an opportunity to say, You know what, I am struggling, I am having a hard time — and I need some help.

“When people know they can voice their feelings without shame or repercussion, that’s when everyone can perform at their best. If your people truly believe that they can have open, honest, transparent conversations about what’s happening in both their work and private lives, they’ll bring their whole selves to work every day.”

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Leaders should demonstrate compassion and transparency — and this, in turn, gives your employees permission to be real and express themselves as needed.

“It all comes down to being human,” Parris told HRD. “It’s okay to ask people if they’re okay — and it’s equally okay not to be okay. We tend to think that, if you’re too compassionate, that takes away from your professionalism — not so. There’s been such a huge shift with everything happening in the world right now, and organizations are waking up to the idea that compassion is a necessity. The pressure and stress of our daily lives inevitably spills over into our work, which means it’s critical for employers to foster a culture of open communication.”

To hear more from Tamisha Parris and Renée Charles, sign up for UKG’s free webinar, Leading with Compassion.

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