Compassion is the awareness of the suffering of others and the desire to relieve it. It is the ability to listen to all points of view, empathise with them and develop solutions to meet everyone’s needs, including your own. Having compassion for others reduces stress and enables you to work more harmoniously as a team.
You need to have compassion for yourself as a leader too, allowing yourself to make mistakes, to take time out when needed and to be human. If you fail to have compassion for yourself and manage your stress, you will eventually burn out.
A high volume of change requires you to influence others and bring them with you. Compassion is not airy-fairy fluff and nonsense. It involves building powerful connections, being curious and seeking first to understand and work collaboratively with others. Compassion is a strength. True compassion implies a willingness to engage with a person as a whole and shows vulnerability with enormous power behind it.
When people work with the horses, they very quickly learn whether they are compassionate or not. Some clients, by their own admission, say they are more interested in getting the job done than bringing people with them. The pressure on them in business is so great they overlook the importance of the relationships. The horses will often give these people a hard time, either by taking charge and dragging the client around the arena, or by refusing to move until the client builds the relationship.
Horses simply won’t tolerate a leader who doesn’t afford them an appropriate level of compassion in the process. People are more likely to go along with a leader who doesn’t show them compassion, but they do it begrudgingly. These clients begin to see the true value in building relationships. They learn that they achieve the task more quickly with a cooperative team, and that it is more enjoyable too when you take the time to build a relationship.
There are times when you get to the limit of your skill set. What do you do in those moments? Do you become more coercive? Do you sit back and ask others their opinion? What happens when nobody agrees? Do you take a stand?
What’s your default behaviour when you reach the edge of your capabilities?
If you’ve ever found yourself speaking from a place of frustration, you lack compassion at that moment. You’ve stepped over a line into coercive behaviour. There is such a fine line between passive and assertive behaviour. When there is conflict, however minor the disagreement, there is a tendency to push your own opinion or give in and say nothing for the sake of a quiet life.
Employees genuinely want to do a good job. They honestly don’t set out to hurt others. If you repeatedly push employees to their limits and beyond, they develop work-related stress and anxiety.
When compassion is lacking in the workplace, people don’t feel heard and understood. They may feel put upon, and you may experience resistance and negativity as a result. Employees who feel put upon will eventually stop going the extra mile. It can lead to a silo mentality where people only do what serves them and no longer consider the bigger picture. This reduces collaboration and innovation.
Compassion is not about being nice to people in order to get what you want. That is manipulation. Compassion is genuinely caring for the needs of the business, other people and yourself, and showing it. It doesn’t always mean everybody is happy. Most people, when faced with making someone redundant, will do it with compassion. Those one-off events are easier because you consider them carefully and plan them. But what of the everyday conversations with people who you find challenging? How compassionate are you towards those people? Do you recognise that everyone is doing their best and treat them gently, even though they may not be doing what you want them to do?
Compassion isn’t always taking the easy option. It is making a powerful choice in service of a bigger picture.