Compassion or paranoia? What HR can learn from political leaders

From Donald Trump to Jacinda Arden – there’s some harsh lessons in leadership from these political heavyweights

Compassion or paranoia? What HR can learn from political leaders

The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best and worst in our world leaders.

New Zealand, Finland and South Korea have responded quickly, effectively and empathetically to the pandemic, according to Wendy Born - author of Raising Leaders and The Languages of Leadership.

However, Born told HRD that other countries have responded with “narcissism, secrecy and paranoia” which has often led to devastating outcomes. 

So, what can we learn from these leadership styles to apply in our teams and organisations? 

Born said there are five core areas of leadership that separate the best leaders from the mediocre ones.

Empathy shines
Leaders who achieve results care about others and know the value of “connection, under­standing and compassion”. 

Born said this was especially evident when the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern addressed the country in the wake of the 2019 terrorist attacks that killed 51 people.

Through her “vulnerability, empathy and humil­ity”, Born said Ardern demonstrated that she was one of the world’s great leaders.

HRD also recently reported how Ardern was addressing New Zealand after the re-emergence of COVID-19 and her empathy was strongly on display again.

“It’s been a hard year for Auckland. It’s been a hard year for drought-stricken and flood-ridden parts of the country,” said Ardern. “If it feels hard right now, it’s because it is.”

“But let’s also remember – in a world where 2020 has frankly been terrible – we are strong, we have been kind and we are doing really well.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: 5 questions for business leaders

Moreover, Born cited a 2014 study by Sigal Barsade, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and Olivia O’Neill, School of Business, George Mason University.

The researchers concluded that organisations with a culture of connection, compassion and caring between employees have significantly higher levels of engagement and lower levels of withdrawal. This then permeates out to clients, customers and stakeholders.

Open, honest and clear communication
A 2015 Gallup Survey found that when employees have clear expectations and the resources to do their job, engagement increases dramati­cally.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in ensured that he communicated to his citizens consistently and clearly which increased the trust in his leadership, according to Born. 

However, Born said the US President Donald Trump’s “inconsistent and sometimes untruthful communication” has led to an decrease in trust across the country. 

“Transparency and consistency with communication, as well as setting clear expectations and consequences, increases trust and helps to create an environment of psychological safety in teams,” said Born. 

Resilience in the face of crises
The Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel has seen a great deal in her fifteen years of leadership. 

As the leader of Europe’s largest economy, she has weathered the Global Financial Crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Born said Merkel’s leadership has been “direct, poignant and empathetic” and has contributed “significantly to their successful management of this crisis”.

READ MORE: COVID:19: Top priorities of HR leaders revealed

Moreover, research completed in 2017 by Southwick, Martini, Charney and Southwick found that organisations with resilient leaders thrive in times of adversity and crisis.

“Building your resilience enables you to manage under pressure and in stressful situations helping you to lead more effectively during times of crisis,” said Born.

Walking the talk
The workforce observes a leader’s words, action and behaviours – whether they be good or bad. When leaders don’t “walk their talk”, Born claims the consequences can be significant. 

Born offered the example of Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, who visited her second home during lockdown – which ultimately led to her the result. 

Research completed by Tanner, Brügger, van Schie and Lebherz in 2010 shows a pos­itive relationship between a leader’s ethical behaviours and the attitudes of employees.

Attitudes such as job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and overall engagement were all positively influenced by the actions of their leader.

Looking at the bigger picture
Dr Fred Kiel’s 2014 research on the impact of CEOs who showed concern for the com­mon good found that they produced an average return of 9.35% compared with CEOs who were more ‘self-focused’ producing returns of only 1.93% on average.

A political example is Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg who believes that scientists, not politicians should take the lead on treatments for COVID-19, according to Born. 

Solberg also argues that working with other nations to develop vaccines for the future is critical to having established a working coalition with other European countries following the Ebola Crisis, added Born. 

Recent articles & video

Match Fit: Rugby legend reveals mental health struggles

The best ‘gender diverse’ firms in NZ

CEO email-blasts 10M customers to endorse Joe Biden

Sephora's VP HR: 'We belong to something beautiful'

Most Read Articles

New Zealand Labour Day: A brief history

Tall Poppy Syndrome: How to confront the issue head on

Violence at work: When should you step in?