Can Leading with Compassion Get Results?

Over 90 days spanning November 2021- February 2022, I watched a 34-year-old rising manager lead his team in an exhausting round-the-clock march to complete a poorly conceived project by February 13, 2022. Why the push?

The company had invested 2021 money in a vendor that advised them to push a product out or lose the money. The manager was given the new product mandate in mid-December as year-end vacations were being planned and he had no input about how or if this had to be done. His supervisor said the decision was handed down by ‘leadership’ and that it was out of her hands to change. Most of us have been here. It’s a tough situation that no one likes.

Can more compassionate leadership drive better performance? The research is out that it does.

The manager did a superb job – getting in the trenches and ensuring that everyone had what they needed –and doing all possible to make the best of a bad choice. With the project delivered in great fanfare to global markets – it earned mediocre credit and checked the box tasked by leadership. Were the company’s financial spend and effort truly an achievement? The team gave up needed personal time after running hard all year and received recognition for a decision they weren’t behind nor proud of the results.

When coaching the manager, he reflected on a few questions:

  • In terms of ‘ worth the effort’ – how would he describe the result?
  • What did this result mean for him/ for his team?
  • What did he learn about the organization? His supervisor? Himself?
  • What is a better way to do this – and how might he leverage his learning?

The manager chose to have a courageous conversation with his supervisor. They agreed to new protocols giving the manager sooner insight and a voice in the project planning, budgeting, and vendor decisions that impacted his team. The manager and team members care about each other and care about the quality of work they do. The supervisor is listening and supporting the manager’s insights and collaborating with her peers and manager to shift the top-down directive approach. The entire group now reports increased productivity, enhanced innovation, efficiencies, and their projects are gaining market share.

Unfortunately, the conversation was too late to save the depleted goodwill of several star players and they joined other companies.

Most of us empathize with the leaders in all of these roles: the rising manager, his supervisor, and/or the team members. We do our best when in any of these roles to support our leaders’ decisions and know that sometimes, the wisdom and compassion necessary to make a hard decisions feels too risky to alter course. It’s prudent that leaders re-evaluate assumptions about choice, voice, and employee loyalty as things have changed from when they started out. While people leave if they feel they have no voice or contribution, it’s also true that good people stay and thrive if they have the opportunity to grow, feel respected, and are part of something meaningful.

There’s plenty of room for leaders being compassionate and driving performance. It’s not easy and it’s a real and potent leadership quality.

In HBR’s recent article Leaders Don’t have to Choose between Compassion and Performance the authors suggest four practices that done well, can help organizations have a more human-centric approach to performance.

The article stresses that leading with compassion is good for business.

Four recommended processes that support compassionate leadership include:  

1.      Gather data that matters – ask line managers what’s working or not – for them?

2.      Make time for compassionate conversations that get to the heart of the situation.

3.      Normalize transparency so that people feel their situations and needs are heard.

4.     Collaborate on solutions between leadership, line managers, and team members.

As an executive coach, I’m in favor of compassionate leaders driving results. The following questions offer clients a lens through which to evaluate compassionate action:

  • What are the hallmarks of a compassionate conversation– how do you know?
  • What makes input and collaboration with line managers possible – what is the evidence?
  • How would you rate the EQ and well-being of your team?
  • How would the team rate you on these two qualities?
  • What would a more compassionate approach mean to your teams?

What can you do to seize opportunities for a more compassionate approach to performance? Cheering you on!

Ready to grow your leadership impact? Schedule an inquiry call with Kim.

Kim Moore

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