The practice of compassion
The word compassion originates from the Latin “passio” which means to suffer, when paired with the Latin prefix “com” meaning together – the result is, “suffer together. “ The dictionary defines compassion as “ a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved.” There are some examples of leaders that have demonstrated exemplary compassion towards others, for example, Mohandas Gandhi. Recognized for his minimalist, simplistic lifestyle, he spent 20 years in South Africa working to fight discrimination. It was there that he created the concept of satyagraha, a non-violent way of protesting against injustice. He was respected and admired for the compassion he demonstrated towards the suffering. Other leaders have not shown the same degree of compassion. Take for example the ex-CEO of Sunbeam Corporation in the mid 90’s, Al Dunlap, or “Chainsaw Al” as many who worked for him and survived knew his leadership style. His caustic wit and quick fire temper caused many an to executive tremble. Ultimately he was fired and barred from corporate life.
Importance in business today
So then why is compassion so important for business leaders today? Research has found that there is a close link between effective leadership and compassion. In his book, “True North”, the ex-CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, discovered that some 125 successful leaders all had similar characteristics. He summarized it in the following way: “The transformation from I to we is the most important people go through.” The practice of compassion is about going from self to others. Recent findings in neuroscience using fMRI technology indicate that actual changes take place in the brain when people express compassion and empathy. It tends to reduce their destructive emotions and promote a sense of well-being. In his book, “From Good To Great”, Jim Collins conducted research on what differentiated the top quartile performing organizations from the rest. He amassed a huge quantity of data from 1 435 companies that appeared on the Fortune 500 since 1965, and discovered that the top quartile performing companies practiced what he called, “ Level 5 Leadership”, characterized by a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. This level sits on top of a hierarchy of levels, and is a necessary requirement for leaders when transforming an organization from good to great.
Developing your Compassion Quotient
Compassion has three elements: Affective, I feel for you; Cognitive, I understand you; Motivational, I want to help you. Each of these elements can be developed and enhanced by putting into practice some simple techniques.
1. Affective: seeing goodness in all, and looking out for what people in the organization are doing well and giving feedback to them on a regular basis. Putting yourself in their “shoes” for a day.
2. Cognitive: gaining insights into own personal strengths and liabilities. At a deeper level, you begin to understand your core values, purpose and priorities. You know what is important and what is not. You can then create the right alignment and authenticity within yourself.
3. Motivational: finding opportunities to apply personal mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Combining these aspects will help you in becoming happier at work and collaborating more effectively with others. You cannot motivate others, the only person you can motivate is yourself, and create the environment in which the people you lead can motivate themselves too!