Compassion – noun – concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
When someone shows “compassion”, it manifests itself into a mental state that is injected with a sense of concern for the suffering of others, and an aspiration to see that suffering relieved.
Compassion is distinct from a feeling of either sympathy or empathy. Sympathy is the feeling when you care about, and are sorry about, someone else’s trouble, misfortune, or grief. Empathy is a much deeper feeling and can be defined as the feeling that you understand and share another person’s feelings and emotions (basically, you are able to feel with they are feeling). Compassion can be defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering, with the focus on a desire for action.
Recent studies have shown that contrary to conventional wisdom, compassionate leaders are strong and courageous; they promote trust and collaboration; promote well-being in others; and at the same time, they produce positive results.
In the business world, taking a hard line with people is praised all too often. We applaud the strong-arm approach and think that you need to be “tough” in order to survive — we love to celebrate the “hard-won battle.” We see examples of this every day, in politics, and in our institutions. The polar opposite of empathetic and compassionate leaders—individuals who are narcissistic, self-serving, and power-hungry—who create havoc in our society.
But the truth is, being cold or unfeeling rarely gets you anywhere. It comes with a sour taste, it leaves ill feelings in your wake, and it ends up burning bridges that could have otherwise stood the test of time.
As a leader, compassion is the most efficient and effective way to get back on a positive path that will move you, your company, and the collective forward.
Compassion could be described as a process that takes someone from being about themselves to instead being about others. In other words, compassion is about going from “I” to “We.” So if switching from “I” to “We” is an important process of becoming a great leader, those who practice compassion will already know how and will have a head start.
Compassion has 3 components which are all rooted in humility:
A cognitive component: “I understand you”
An affective component: “I feel for you”
A motivational component: “I want to help you”
In the classic and best-selling book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins drives this point home.
Perhaps the most important finding in the book is the role of leadership. It takes an exceptional leader to bring an otherwise “good” company to the more exclusive ranks of greatness. Collins calls them “Level 5” leaders. These are leaders who, in addition to being highly capable, also possess a rare mix of two important and what might seem to be conflicting qualities: ambition and humility. These leaders are highly ambitious, and they are certainly goal oriented drivers. However, the focus of their ambition is not themselves; instead, they are ambitious for the benefit of others. Because their attention is focused on others, they feel no need to inflate their own egos. That makes them both inspiring and highly effective.
Christina Boedker of the Australian School of Business conducted a research study on the link between leadership and organizational performance, and collected data from more than 5600 people in 77 organizations. She concluded that, out of all the various elements in a business, the ability of a leader “to understand people’s motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be,” had the greatest correlation with profitability and productivity.
No matter the situation, showing the person you are working with that you are on the same team makes the most sense. If someone comes to you with an issue, make best efforts to take a moment to see things from that person’s point of view. Maybe there is someone above them driving them nuts. Maybe there is too much on that person’s plate. There is a reason why that person is coming to you. The key is to meet people where they are, and then position yourself as a resource–not an enemy. If someone is in a stressful situation, or carrying a lot of anxiety, trying to strong-arm that person will do nothing but make things worse. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
If there is a fire or a project goes awry, or an employee makes an unsalvageable mistake, the easy thing would be to react with disappointment, anger, or anxiety. Compassion brings the moment back to being human.
Showing compassion first and setting that foundation is what will not only reassure those around you of your confidence and ability to lead but will help keep you in a positive state, allowing you to make better decisions.
Jesus actually seemed desperate to show people how loved they were. He had an urgency to it, and he showed great determination in repetitively showing them and telling them they were loved. When he saw a city in spiritual shambles, he cried because of it. If you carefully read the Gospels, I think you’ll find the descriptions and adjectives used show that Jesus often felt, and very deeply felt, the pain of others. He then took it a step further in giving them relief and helping them through their pain.
Personally, I believe that compassion walks a tightrope above the concept of judgment. When we choose to judge others, we’re not showing compassion. We are not showing compassion when we judge others (just to make ourselves feel better or superior – which in itself, is evil). In John 8:7, Jesus said, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” — to a crowd that was showing judgment toward a woman who had sinned. They were not showing compassion. They were showing the opposite.
Jesus taught us to show compassion instead of judging others or deciding for ourselves that they reap what the sow. Though this may be true (that we reap what we sow), we all screw up – daily. And, we need to support each other and be realistic about where we stand ourselves. That’s humility. If you find yourself struggling with compassion, take a long look in the mirror and work on humbling yourself. A person that struggles with humility cannot be compassionate. Jesus was incredibly compassionate. And, as Jesus is part of the Trinity, God and the Holy Spirit are also compassionate. Again, that does not mean there is no lack of accountability. But, there is everlasting and unlimited love, which conquers all.