Compassion and its Role in Leadership

One of the infinite benefits of being a graduate of Georgetown University's Leadership Coaching Masters Program, is the network of gifted and talented coaches. An outrageously generous community that shares abundantly and is a resource for incredible insights. I am always inspired by the collective wisdom of this group, and for some reason, I was particularly moved by the following perceptions. Enjoy!

Maryanne Honeycutt Elliott, founder of The Acorn Group posed the question to our Georgetown alumni about how we define compassion and gives this background regarding her inquiry:

"I was curious about the question for many reasons, and particularly since my instinct says that compassion is a dynamic which exists outside of suffering, or clear physical or emotional distress (death, illness, divorce, etc.). The etymology (as mentioned by one of our alums) says that the word comes from "to suffer." However, most responses from this our colleagues and other social media sites where I posted the question did not include suffering, but to me, had a broader definition. Additionally, compassion in a more traditional sense could be seen as more "reactive" and in response to something that has already happened. I suggest looking at the impact of compassion when it is proactive and embodied in the leader, and believe this has great significance.... What does this look like? What transformation is possible? How could this shape the future? And finally, I believe compassion has the power to weave through every day activities, including those things we don't like, perhaps letting someone go, giving difficult feedback, etc. and possible change both self and others when we approach with compassion. "compassion-11

Dan Blohowiak reminds us:

The root of compassion is passion, which literally means "to suffer."

The prefix "Com" means "with."

So, compassion literally means "to suffer with another."

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it is to feel, to be sensitive to another's pain.

In the workplace, there are many forms of suffering. The wounds of wasted time, of indignities, frustrations, slights, physical and psychic challenges. And on and on.

A compassionate person is, with a nod to Carl Rogers, OTHER centered -- focused not on one's own suffering but attuned to, caring about, patient with, accepting of, and responsive to (easing) the suffering of others.

That's what compassionate means to me.

Hope that is helpful in some small way.

Here is what Bettina Fiery shared:

"I work in a healthcare environment; we use the following definition for compassion (one of our core values):

We demonstrate a visible attitude of kindness and empathy and see the value of each person.
Healthcare is a service with a central focus on compassion. We strive to provide compassionate care and service to members of our community. We must focus on the feelings and attributes of our customers, both internal and external. We must assess their needs and strive to exceed them. We can best fulfill these needs by asking questions and understanding the feelings and preferences of those we serve and with whom we work. We seek to develop trusting and respectful relationships with each other.
Key Behaviors:

• Fully focused and present with active listening, not just hearing; use good eye contact and facial expressions that demonstrate care and genuine interest, and non-verbal behaviors match words.

• Honor and respect the uniqueness of each individual.

• Treat all individuals as equal regardless of perceived differences. Be non-judgmental and accepting of other's appearance, culture, etc. Respect cultural diversity by recognizing individual differences and support those differences. Be considerate and respond to the diverse needs of the people we serve.

• Prioritize work based on the needs of the customer." hands

Vinay Kumar of Teoco Company offers his perspective: "To me compassion is being attuned and sensitive to others' needs, pain, and suffering. AND then being willing and ready, from a place of deep genuine care, to do whatever one can do to one's best of abilities to support others in whatever way is needed, keeping their interest at heart. To build on your question, how does one know when one is in the presence of a compassionate soul? What does one observe, experience, and feel in the presence of such an individual?"

Eve Konstantine shares her thoughts:

"For me, it brings up another question perhaps worthy of debate: What do we gain by defining compassion in the workplace as distinct from compassion anywhere else?

I feel it's exactly these well-developed, long held patterns of compartmentalization that contribute to the dis-jointed, disaffected and fractured-ness of our lives in these most busy and complex times.

If we could promote a workplace where our humanity need not be checked at the door, then I think we'd end up with more content, integrated, productive employees, who could feel safe showing up as whole and authentic human beings.

I offer this as a sincere opening of a meta-conversation about the workplace as a broad domain, not a rejection of the initial question. I am sincerely curious as to what others think. Am I naïve? Are our culturally honed workplace personas just a fact of life? Can we collectively imagine a world where we travel seamlessly through the doors of home/workplace and home again without applying masks and armor?"

Lynne Brown, sees compassion from this lens:

I love this Sharing the Heart piece from Pema Chodron. This is what compassion means to me.

Sharing the heart is a simple practice that can be used at any time and in every situation. It enlarges our view and helps us remember our interconnection. The essence of this practice is that when we encounter pain in our life we breathe into our heart with the recognition that others feel this. It's a way of acknowledging when we are closing down and of training to open up. When we encounter any pleasure or tenderness in our life, we cherish that and rejoice. Then we make the wish that others could also experience this delight or this relief. In a nutshell, when life is pleasant, think of others. When life is a burden, think of others. If this is the only training we ever remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and everyone else as well. It's a way of bringing whatever we encounter onto the path of awakening bodhichitta. compassionsign

Hsuan-hua Chang's contribution to the conversation is:

"Compassion is the ability to feel another person's pain or joy and deeply know what it must be like to be them. It implies a strong connection without losing one's emotional boundaries."

"When an individual's capacity to compassion is limited, he or she will tend to withdraw and disconnect emotionally from others when he or she is challenged or feels at risk emotionally in any way. The result of disconnection can be profound." ~ From EQ Fitness Handbook.

Personally, I think in the workplace, the stress makes a big impact to one's capacity to be compassionate. Fear-based cultures also minimize our capacity for compassion.
I think the context leads to more implication about how compassion is defined by individuals."

I want to thank everyone who agreed to this compilation. Compassion is one of those leadership competencies, that in the fury of ROI and bottom-line, gets minimized. Strategic thinking and result-driver will never fall off the performance management radar. And when you see a leader that possesses compassion, you can feel a difference in the culture and they way a team responds to crises. Like training and development gets cut in tight fiscal times, rewards for compassion may not be as visible. I challenge us all to reach deep and define compassion for ourselves, our teams, our families and lives.

Chinese Beauty
Back to School: Lessons from My First Grader

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