Article: Building Caring and compassionate leadership

Leadership Development

Building Caring and compassionate leadership

We will discuss 3 styles of management that we come across and analyze how those styles impact the overall performance of the team differently.
Building Caring and compassionate leadership

One of the challenges that today’s managers face is to get jobs done by people. Most people come to work every day with an intent to do a good job. However, that intent does not translate to good work when it comes to actual output delivered by workers.

What are the reasons why people sometimes fail to deliver their jobs? Ferdinand Fournies, author of ‘Coaching for workplace performance’ articulated 16 reasons why people don’t do what they are supposed to do and discussed how to deal with each of those.

In this article, we will instead, turn the camera on the manager and analyze how her style affects the performance of people.

We will discuss 3 styles of management that we come across and analyze how those styles impact the overall performance of the team differently. For sake of convenience let us categorize them as Class A, B and C.

Class C - Coercive and callous style

There are many managers who believe that work gets done only when you apply force and create fear in minds of people. Their tools of management are – threat, punishment, and coercion. They often come across as manipulative, insensitive and self-centered. Their approach is to get the job done by hook or crook.

What will be the attitude of people who work for such managers? Penalty avoidance. People try to do the basic minimum and avoid punishment and getting fired. Work stops at the slightest sign of obstacle.

What organs do they deploy in work? Hands. They don’t apply their thinking power and problem-solving skills.

Class B - Command and control style

Managers who use this style insist on commanding people and controlling their work. They strongly believe in micro-managing tasks given to teams. They may not be manipulative like their Class C counterparts; however, they think that unless you micromanage people and tell them what they should do, work does not get done.

People working with managers who use micro-management and command & control style feel stressed out and don’t give their best performance. 

What will be the attitude of team members towards work? Compliance. Teams try to comply with the basic expectations and deliver work that is acceptable.

What organ do the people working for micromanagers deploy in work? Head. They just use their head to complete the tasks given. In other words, they meet the requirements of quality and that is all; no more and no less.

Class A - Compassion and caring style

Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller corporation practiced a leadership style that was different from many others. He believed in bringing compassion into management. In one of his TED talks, he argues that people who work for you at the office are no different from people at home. If you are a caring parent at home, you can be a caring manager at work as well.

When managers demonstrate care and compassion, recognize the human side of people and their full potential, they don’t have to do micro-management. Work happens effortlessly. People give their best because it is no longer someone else’s task. It is my task now!

What is the attitude of people working for a caring manager? Excellence. They want to excel and live up to the inspiration of the manager. Why? Because they know that this manager cares about their growth.

What organs are deployed by people under care and compassionate style? Heart. Needless to mention that when people feel cared for, they give their heart to the job. They don’t stop until it is done. They do it as if it is their own family business.

Relationship between people and caring managers is full of mutual trust and respect. 

As per Peter Drucker, true test of a leader happens in absence, not in presence. If the structures and systems created by the leader crumble in her absence, it was a mockery, not a leadership.

Interestingly, managers who practice care and compassionate style, pass this test. Their absence does not cause any dip in work or its quality. Reason? People take it as their own work and want to deliver excellence not because boss asked for it.

Following table summarizes these 3 styles for quick reference.

Tools, techniques or tactics used by managers to get work done depend on their style as shown in table 2.

None of what we are discussing here is new to common knowledge. Almost every line manager with reasonable experience is aware of these styles and their consequences. That raises couple of questions.

Why do managers resort to pressure tactics and use the threat as a tool for getting the job done? 

There can be many reasons. Let us examine a few of them.

Personal background – Family background plays an important role in shaping management style of people. If you came from a culture of dominating others and getting work done by pushing people, you will strongly practice the same approach. You don’t see people as people but as workers and resources.

Subrato Bagchi, author of the book, ‘Go kiss the world’ explains how in his early childhood, he received lessons from his father about respecting others. His father would insist on children to address the car driver as uncle and not as driver. 

Organizational culture – Many organizations have a culture of classes, hierarchy and strict boundaries between working class and management. In these places, it is quite normal to see managers treating workers as second class citizens and not respecting their personal dignity.

Past experience – if you worked under a callous manager who applies pressure tactics to get the job done, you will unintentionally develop the same style. You will end up believing and practicing the approach not realizing its long-term consequences to people, to you and your own career as a manager.

Fear of failure – managers who create fear in others’ minds usually carry fear themselves. Inner fear of failure manifests as an aggressive approach to avoid it. It results in a style of threatening people with dire consequences, punishment, and penalty.

Incompetence – let us face it. Managing people is a crucial competency for the success of organizations and managers. Not everyone is ready with that competence. Those who realize it, invest time and learning management principles and practices. Those who don’t will end up destroying organizations and of course their own careers. Unfortunately, most people managers think that they know how to manage people while their people think otherwise!

Granted, there are issues. How do we help in developing compassionate and caring managers?

Create a culture of trust – Organizations built on a foundation of mutual trust between people - are inherently stronger to face challenges and continue to perform better than others. This has to be part of leadership conversations, official communication, and policy. When you empower people and trust them to do a great job, they rarely disappoint you. On the other hand, if you treat people as suspects, they eventually become disillusioned and don’t give their best.

The top leader has to demonstrate this approach in action and words. If she notices any signs of distrust among her direct reports or next level managers, she needs to gently coach them and correct their behavior so that mutual trust is guarded as the most important value in the organization.

Inculcate right attitude - when things go wrong, people look for who is responsible. Typically this approach is not just ineffective, but also counterproductive for the healthy functioning of the organization. Instead, inculcate the attitude of asking ‘what needs to be done’, ‘how do we prevent this in future’. There is a huge difference in energy generated by these two questions – ‘who did this mistake?’ and ‘what needs to be done?’

Promote care and compassion – Train managers to treat people as part of the family.  It totally changes their attitude towards team members. Create goals and objectives in such a way that managers are measured on time invested in developing people (touch time), working on building passionate teams. Take a close look at attrition trends and find out the ‘real’ reasons why people are leaving. Are they leaving an unreasonable manager or chasing a better opportunity? 

Deploy employee experience surveys – many organizations use employee satisfaction surveys as instruments to measure engagement. The companies take pride in publishing them along with business results. However, the surveys are not true indicators of what is happening on the ground. Instead of measuring satisfaction, try and design surveys that measure employees’ experience. Quiz people around their aspirations vs experience in the company. Experience surveys can give you pointers on how managers are being perceived and how employees see their overall experience.

Create and propagate shared goals – many organizations define the grand vision and business goals. However, those vision statements and goals remain in boardroom and hardly reach the people at the lower levels. In other words, the people who do most of the work don’t have a clear view of what the organization wants to accomplish and how their work connects to it. Managers who spend time with their teams explaining the purpose of the organization, its long term vision and objectives – tend to get much better results than those who push tasks to be completed without explaining why.

Test of this aspect is easy. Walk around the organization and quiz people by asking what they think is the company trying to achieve… You will know instantly whether goals are understood people on the ground!

Conduct reviews for recharging people – Business reviews usually shape behaviors of managers. Most reviews happen like criminal interrogation where the reviewee is grilled for his division’s poor performance and inadequate numbers. It is not surprising that the reviewee leaves the boardroom with a high level of negative energy which will show up at his next meeting with direct reports. The negativity percolates down the organization all the way to the team members. Where did it start? At the top management review of business performance. 

Change this pattern deliberately. When performance numbers don’t match up, instead of grilling the manager, ask questions like ‘what are the challenges you are facing?’, ‘what kind of resources and support do you need in order to achieve the goals?’, ‘how are your people experiencing work?’ etc. 

Each review meeting should inspire the reviewee to take positive energy to his teams and commit to better performance.

Give time – Some managers carry an artificial sense of urgency and pressurize their teams unnecessarily causing a great amount of stress and tension in the system. When you give time and space to people to perform, they will be able to do a quality job with excellence. Same is the case about bringing a shift in leadership culture. It is important to understand that culture changes and organizational shifts happen rather slowly. People need to exercise restraint and practice patience. Saint Kabir explained this aptly in his doha 
dheerey dheerey rey manaa, dheerey sab kuch hoye|
malee seenchey sau ghadaa, rutu aayee phal hoye ||

Loosely translated, this couplet means, ‘hey mind, things happen slowly. Even if the gardener pours 100 buckets of water on a plant, it will give fruits only at the arrival of the season’.

In summary, caring and compassionate leadership is a practice of building organizations by creating human to human relationships and heart to heart communications and getting extraordinary work done by ordinary people!

Want to close with a management tip – while troubleshooting an underperforming team, diagnose the manager first! 

(Views expressed here are author’s own and don’t represent his organization)

Topics: Leadership Development

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