Blog: 5 steps to practicing compassionate leadership during a crisis


5 steps to practicing compassionate leadership during a crisis

Now more than ever, leaders must pivot from their traditional management style. Rather than working from a place of productivity or efficiency, what leaders must demonstrate is compassion in order to be effective.
5 steps to practicing compassionate leadership during a crisis

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the best business leaders would tell you that great leadership meant being present and accessible. However, 2020 has changed everything, including the way we work and especially the way we lead. In a world of social distancing, present and accessible leadership looks a lot different. 

Now more than ever, leaders must pivot from their traditional management style. Rather than working from a place of productivity or efficiency, what leaders must demonstrate is compassion in order to be effective. 

Strong leadership requires empathy

As a leader, you may focus more on practical and financial measures to ensure your organization survives this crisis. However, ignoring your soft skills can actually harm your organization during this time. In fact, studies have linked empathic leadership with sales growth and increased productivity. 

According to leadership development firm DDI, empathy is the single most important leadership skill. They report that leaders who practice and master empathy perform more than 40 percent higher in coaching, engagement and decision-making. A 2016 study from the Center for Creative Leadership examined 6,731 managers from 38 countries and found that empathy is also positively related to job performance. 

The future of business depends on empathy, especially in a post-pandemic world. 

Compassion is active empathy

When we talk about empathy, we also tend to talk about compassion. But these terms aren’t interchangeable. Knowing the difference can make a significant impact on your team. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings. Although you may not be experiencing the same challenges as an entry-level employee, you can be mindful of what that team member is feeling. Where can you align with people in different circumstances than yours about shared concerns? What priorities do you have in common about your families, work and community?

Once you’ve begun practicing empathy as it relates to your leadership, you can start to lead with compassion. 

Compassionate leadership goes beyond empathy to take an active role in the solution. It requires recognizing the problem, understanding what others are experiencing and then helping to be part of the change. Leading with compassion allows you to use your position and resources to help others and alleviate any issues. 

5 actionable steps to build compassionate leadership

Compassionate leadership will revolutionize your organization—and your life. But not knowing where to begin and how to set goals can make it difficult to build a soft skill like compassion. 

Here are 5 ways you can begin building compassionate leadership:

  • Start by simply talking about compassion: You may not know how to start conversations about big topics like empathy and compassion, especially when we’re all going through so much. Talk to your colleagues and direct reports about your intention—and then listen to what they have to share. 
  • Treat yourself with compassion: As they say on an airplane (remember those?), you have to put on your oxygen mask before helping others. Practice the same compassion on yourself as you would a friend or family member, even when they fail. Make time to be mindful of your feelings, whether through meditation, working with a coach or another form of self-care. 
  • Schedule time for practicing compassion: If you want to get good at guitar, you set time to practice. If you want to get better at compassion, you also have to practice. Set aside time during your week to actively think about what you can be doing to cultivate compassion in your organization and encourage other managers to do the same. 
  • Foster connections with employees, customers and stakeholders: Compassion depends on frequent, purposeful communication, especially when working remotely. Make time to build relationships with and actively listen to others.
  • Use your position to alleviate challenges: As you begin hearing input from others, consider what you can do to be part of the solution. For example, institutional support during this time could take the form of:
    • Extended paid leave
    • Additional sick days
    • Expanded healthcare coverage (e.g., telehealth, mental health, family coverage)
    • Flexible schedules to accommodate the needs of the individual and family
    • When possible, remote work policies supporting work from anywhere

Bringing compassion to your organization

Several months after first shutting down, companies, governments and individuals are trying to determine what the new normal looks like. As a leader, you have the opportunity to rediscover both your personal and your organizational “Why”. 

For example, two of my organization’s core values are, “Take care of your fellow human,” and “Embrace change together.” I’m proud to see how my team has upheld these values in recent months. I’m also working to actively listen to how I can better deliver on these commitments to our stakeholders. 

Adding compassion to your leadership skill set will make all the difference in your organization’s services during this time. We may be experiencing a crisis, but we also have an opportunity to improve how we treat each other and build a better future, together. 


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Topics: Leadership, #GuestArticle, #COVID-19

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