Flexibility is a Marker of Compassionate Leadership

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As the pandemic emerged in 2020, one major differentiator in business leadership and employee experience was the ability to demonstrate compassion.

While some employees were met with grace, understanding and relaxed expectations as they were forced to deal with grief, fear, and economic insecurity, others reported that the expectations at their workplaces were lacking in empathy and focused on productivity and conducting business as usual.

Compassionate leadership. Human-centered leadership. People-centric leadership. Essentially, it is the ability to have genuine care and concern for others. But regardless of what you call it – the need for it is becoming increasingly important. Leading with empathy and compassion is – on one level – the ethical way to conduct business with other human beings. And on another level, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has documented benefits for workplace outcomes.

Research has shown us that compassionate leadership is more than a “nice to have” aspiration. It’s fundamental to working with people effectively and ethically. It has been demonstrated to:

  • Build and foster connections: Compassionate and empathetic leaders are often more effective at creating bonds with the people they work with, and nurturing those relationships.
  • Improves collaboration: People are generally keen on working with those who demonstrate understanding and empathy.
    Increase loyalty and trust: When people are met with compassion and understanding, they are more likely to trust the person who treats them in that manner, and feel more inclined to act in a way that is loyal to them.
  • Increase perceptions of competence: Compassionate leaders are generally perceived as much more effective in their roles compared to their peers who lack this quality.

And one of the ways to improve your compassion as a leader is to build and foster a sense of self-compassion, which can be defined as the degree to which you’re able to extend kindness, care and understanding to yourself when you make a mistake or otherwise “fail short” of your own expectations.

Self-compassion has been demonstrated to align with:

  • Emotional intelligence: The ability to recognize, express, and handle our own emotions and be aware of other people’s emotions.
  • Resilience: The ability to recover from life’s inevitable difficulties and challenges; or the ability to “bounce back.”
    Growth mindset: Operating under the belief that intelligence and abilities are malleable or able to change, and as such, can be increased or improved.
  • Integrity: Having a sense of morality, honesty, and/or ethical values.
  • Compassion towards others: The ability to demonstrate care and concern for other people.

What does compassionate leadership look like in action?

Particularly in the age of the pandemic – but also in the future and beyond – flexibility in the workplace is one tangible and meaningful way to demonstrate a sense of compassionate leadership.

This can come in the form of alternative work arrangements – or allowing employees to work in a way that’s best suited to their personal circumstances, lifestyles and preferences.

For some people, this can be achieved through remote work. For others, a shortened work week. It ultimately depends on the person.

Some people may want to segment their workday into morning and evening shifts to accommodate mid-day duties and responsibilities.

Others may want to trade financial compensation for additional vacation or time off for a reduced workweek or a lengthier chunk of time off in the year.

Regardless of the arrangement, what’s key is that it’s personalized to the needs of the employees and created in collaboration between the business and the worker – and that it demonstrates the recognition that people are humans first with needs outside of work.