By Laura Berland, executive director & Evan Harrel, chief operations officer, Center for Compassionate Leadership
The global economy is going through one of the most disruptive events since the end of World War II. How will you lead through this unprecedented human and business crisis? What are the proven approaches that can deliver positive outcomes for your company, your team, your customers, and yourself?
Academic studies are clear that not all brands bounce back from crises with the same resilience. The performance differential is most strongly correlated with organisational culture. Studies of over 30 companies in different economic contractions show that compassionate business practices have powerful positive impacts on company results when things turn back around.
Engage in these three evidence-based best practices of compassionate leadership now to position your organisation to respond strongly as the world rebounds:
- Build your own foundation of resilience,
- Treat your employees with compassion and respect, and,
- Communicate extensively, transparently, and involve your team as much as possible in decision making processes.
Start With yourself
These are stressful times, and the normal stress of leadership has been amplified significantly. Besides taking a toll on your own health, unaddressed stress will flow outward to your team. It’s important to find time to practice your favourite stress busting activity, whether it’s exercise, meditation or being in nature. Also maintain a healthy diet, get regular sleep, be kind, and stay connected with friends, family, and community. Do whatever you need to do support your self-care and mental health.
One of the most courageous things a leader can do is to be open and vulnerable with others about their own concerns and challenges. Research shows that true vulnerability is one of, if not the hardest practice for leaders to embody. Yet it is one of the most powerful tools available to leaders to create human connection with their team, build trust and increase psychological safety.
Many leaders fear that showing any vulnerability will make them appear weak and erode their power. In fact, research shows the exact opposite. Allowing yourself to be seen fully, including when challenged or after making a mistake, makes you appear human, which increases trust and likeability, and leads to healthier relationships with your team.
The trust, likeability and relationships all contribute to strengthening your team’s perception of your leadership skills. When we try to appear strong or perfect in conflict with reality, the impact is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
Treat employees with empathy
In our recent research of leaders’ and employees’ responses to the current crisis, the single greatest desire of employees is to be treated with respect and humanity. Acknowledging your employees and their feelings is imperative in this environment. Before moving to the business at hand during meetings, check in on how your team is doing. Acknowledge what they say with a sincere, understanding response, one that conveys, “I hear you.” This can’t be a scripted exchange.
Perhaps making the human connection is more challenging with ‘difficult’ team members. Know that with a little practice you can make the connection, and when you do, the dividends will be significant. One simple practice we recommend for nurturing your own empathic feeling towards your entire team, including the challenging ones, is our practice “Just Like Me.” Using this practice to focus on what you share with your team is a surprisingly powerful way to open yourself up to understanding your team and responding to every member of your team with more compassion.
Communicate extensively and transparently
Challenging economic times, especially those that require downsizing staff, damage organisational effectiveness by eroding trust and loyalty – damaging shared values and common culture, increasing secrecy among team members, and increasing self-protective selfishness. The single most effective practice for inhibiting these negative outcomes is increased communication and transparency.
While your employees may hope for good news, what they want most is the truth. Let them know clearly and honestly what is going on as conditions evolve. Don’t sugar coat bad news. Express sadness or regret that reality is as it is. Anything less rings hollow.
The most powerful expression is one that says, “We are facing very challenging times. We are doing and will continue to do all that we can to respond to these challenging circumstances. This is our plan...” Having expressed this, you must live it. When you say that you will do all that you can do, you must align your actions with your words.
Your team understands that many of the realities of this crisis are out of your control and many things will not be okay. Tell it to them straight: It increases their trust in you and their willingness to do all that they can individually and as a team to respond.
Communication is not a one-way street, and when possible, include your team in planning and brainstorming. The creativity that is unleashed by multiple thinkers is very valuable, and is proven to lead to greater employee engagement as well as buy-in of final decisions.
Perhaps the greatest lesson of this crisis is that none of us are really in control, however as leaders we can take charge of the situation. Research evidence gives us the confidence to lead with compassion in these difficult times. Add these compassionate practices to your leadership skills and become an even stronger leader at this historic moment.