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The Human Side of Leadership: Leading with your heart


An incident from one of my workplaces has always remained with me. A new young employee joined our organization. As a fresher he was very much enthusiastic about the work and was eager to leave his mark on the organization. While he wasn't one of the most brilliant minds in the workplace, he was eager to learn and willing to work hard. His reporting officer however, was not very tolerant of mistakes. He would reprimand the person for the smallest of mistakes; at first in private but soon in public. Soon this person was making so many mistakes that someone or the other in the organization was scolding him. There came a time when most people in the organization were convinced that he was a liability than an asset. Then his boss changed. The new boss would appreciate this person for every single good thing that he did. If a mistake was made, the boss would patiently explain how the mistake could be rectified. The boss also spoke with some other members of the team and created a system through which this person could be supported better. I left the organization at that time. A few months later, at a party I met this person. He was not only promoted in the organization but was now managing a small team. The same people who thought he was a liability were seeking his support!! What did the other boss do that changed this person? He treated the person with compassion


All leaders at one point or another are confronted with situations where employee make mistake; sometimes so grave as to potentially ruin a project or relationship. The question is how does one respond to this situation. Of course the easiest and perhaps the first response that we all can identify with is frustration. Frustration is then followed by the traditional approach of course correction: reprimand the employee. The idea is that some form of punishment will act as a deterrent to the employee to commit mistakes in the future. This could also be a method in which the frustration is expressed.


However, some employees have used the compassion and curiosity to manage under-performing employees. Not that they aren't frustrated or worried about the cost of the mistake, but they are able to choose to respond in a non-judgmental manner and coach the person to do a better job. They are able to look at the employee in totality and create systems where they feel supported and encouraged to do their job well.Today teams want leaders who do more than their functional roles; who would act as a mentor and coach to their teams, who would empower and encourage the team and would invest in building strong relationships with the team.



Compassion is the next step of empathy. While empathy is the ability to feel the emotions of the other, compassion includes the desire to help. Daniel Goleman describes "True compassion means not only feeling another's pain but also being moved to help relieve it". Like empathy compassion has an evolutionary and neurological basis; it helps adult human being in nurturing their young. However, some believe that compassion is this mushy touchy feeling that is ineffective in business. Some yet believe that compassion is a 'female thing', something that males can't naturally do.


Research by Stanford University Robert Sapolsky suggests that compassion is natural and no gender differences have emerged across studies. However difference lies in the perception of compassion. This could be largely due to the differences in the socialization processes of men and women. These differences may have impacted how men and women have learned to communicate emotions such as kindness and compassion. What this study basically implies is that while both men and women sense compassion equally, they express it in different manner. But it is a learnt behavior which means that men can learn to express compassion as women do.


Is being a compassionate leader ineffective in a business place? Research indicates that employees look up to their leader who show them compassion or kindness. They are more loyal to him and have more trust in him. Employee trust in turn improves employee performance which in turn improves productivity. So it actually makes business sense for a leader to be compassionate. But then why do leaders find it difficult to treat mistakes with compassion?


An important factor is the control over emotions. Sometimes when we are stressed and already feeling negative emotions, a small mistake could also be perceived as fatal and the reprimand is simply an expression of the pent up frustration and has really nothing to do with the mistake. Be sure that you are not displacing your anger and frustration on the team mate. So be aware of your emotions and learn to control them.



Many times our prejudice and stereotypes comes in play. Many will agree that we make assumptions about a person and then start looking at the person from that one particular lens. We all have these assumptions about people and while it can help us quickly categorize people, it certainly blinds us to the person. So when we are feeling negative emotions (frustration, stress) we may tend to exaggerate than see for what it is. "You always make mistakes", or "I have told you hundred times don't do it this way, you never listen", or "You can't get a single thing right". All of these are exaggerated statements. So the next time you are frustrated at an employee, be aware of the prejudice statements that increase your frustration.


Another reason is our expectation. Sometimes as leaders ( and as seniors members of teams) we tend to see the work through our eyes. If we are used to doing a certain work in a certain amount of time, a certain way and in a certain ease, we expect everyone to be able to do that. We tend to forget that perhaps some people may take more time, may need more support or may not find it as easy as we may. It helps to empathize with the person, it sure helps to remember the times when you have made a mistake and had to face your boss! Be curious about what is causing the employee to make mistakes and take effort to support the person.


In the end it boils down to one thing: if you get out of your own head, be in a good place yourself, you can look at others and have space for others. If you are struggling with your own emotions and battles, you just won't have the space to think of others. Compassion is the key to having connections; to building relationships of heart. Too often we undervalue the power of a kind word, the need for understanding, the beauty of a small act of caring. It has the potential to turn the world around.

"Apni taklifo se nazar uthakar dekhiye istaraf, teri kashti me musafir aur bhi he,
Sirf tu hi nahi he jo he mohobbat ko pyasa, teri humdardi ko pyase aur bhi he"- Anushree Godbole

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