The dry business logic of balance sheets, profits, and shareholder value does not typically include concepts such as kindness, caring, and compassion. In fact, the general consensus is that companies must be ruthless when it comes to cost-cutting and layoffs, HR departments should be rule-bound, and managers authoritative and commanding.
If you’ve been a leader – be it of a small group or a big organization – you know well the feelings of insecurity that can underlie the armor of “bossiness.” Internally, you have likely thought, at one time or another: Are people going to listen to what I say? Are they thinking well of me? What if my friendliness is misinterpreted as a sign of weakness and leniency? Thought-patterns like this can be further exacerbated in some cultures, especially in Asia and Africa, where the leadership ladder is enmeshed with seniority and hierarchy.
Even the kindest of people can find themselves operating in ‘survival mode’ under the pressure of competition. Excessive rivalry competition between peers can lead to unethical conduct as well as sabotaging others. A conceived threat to one’s job, increased workload, and tight deadlines can induce short-termism, which in turn kicks off our primal instincts of self-preservation at all costs.
It is in times of pressure – such as now – when compassionate leadership becomes even more important. Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, is one of the foremost proponents of this when he says that businesses need empathy + action. Employees and customers are carefully watching every move that leaders make, and respond accordingly. Take for instance, a student of mine named Robert, who told me recently: