A healthy dose of compassion

14 February 2018

A healthy dose of compassion

Valentine’s Day is everywhere. Even the most cynical of souls must agree it’s nice to show your feelings for someone special, or to take the opportunity to show them you care. And that got me thinking about business. Do we show people, our colleagues and workplace buddies, that we care about them?

I don’t mean professing our undying love for their work and commitment (weird), or sending them a Valentine’s card (even weirder). But do we ever make people feel that we love the way they are, will support them through thick and thin, and want them to get the very best from their working lives? Or are we still seeing people as objects and resources, like an engineer views a machine and a process?

Do we care enough?

I’ve been chewing for a while on a sparky conversation with the wonderful Debora Brockwell, Programme Director for ‘Developing Management Practice’ here at the Business School. She was making the point (summarising) that people don’t care about each other in business these days. And I completely agree. We’re in a business world dominated by process, logical and rational thinking; where love is left at the door and too many managers and leaders take a dispassionate view of people. As another colleague, Chris Matchan, says “we’re not here to create a vision of loveliness”, we’re in this to make money.

And that’s why it would take me a working lifetime to convince many of my leadership readership to genuinely and fundamentally care about their people. For those of us (me included), who are mostly interested in performance, that’s too much of a stretch. The desire for profit trumps any amount of people focus. But the problem is that being dispassionate kills morale, engagement and ultimately the holy grail of performance. And being dispassionate gives a leader a black heart, characterised by “lack of feeling, ability to feel, or even the wanting to empathise with or attempting to tune in” (www.quora.com).

Which brings me nicely back to Valentine’s Day. Images on February 14th always include a bright red heart. It’s a symbol of love and passion. So what is the equivalent in business of a bright red heart?

It’s when leaders are COMPASSIONATE i.e. the direct opposite of dispassionate. Listening to another colleague, Dr Tatiana Rowson, explaining her research that looks at compassion, highlights how it improves everything from engagement to wellness. She talked about compassion in terms of sensitivity, non-judgement, care for wellbeing, distress tolerance and empathy. But what really struck me was her focus on the need for warmth. And we can all be warm, surely? 

Frankly I don’t expect you to care, in that soft and fluffy cuddly way, even though Sigal Bersade says (in his Harvard Business Review article) that “people who feel love perform better”. What I expect from every leader is a healthy dose of compassion. So the next time you’re striving, driving, hiring and firing, make sure there’s plenty of this most positive emotion. And just a little more warmth.

Remember, red heart not black heart…