We believe leaders are stronger when they practice habits that align with their values. Both the values they hold personally and those they champion organizationally. If we were writing this post during normal times, we’d encourage you to write down your personal values, sit in a room that displays your organizational values, and reflect on whether you are honoring both values sets in your leadership actions. But we’re writing amid a global pandemic, and, at this moment, all leaders should live and lead consistently with a universal value—compassion.
Many of us are staring down leadership challenges we’ve never faced before: furloughing employees, shutting down some or all service lines, declaring ourselves exempt from federal regulations on paid leave because we are a healthcare organization. The list goes on and on. And for every challenge we face, a group of people are impacted by our decisions. Employees who need paychecks. People who count on our products and services. Essential workers who leave their homes each day relying on the personal protective equipment and safety procedures that we provide to keep themselves and their families safe from exposure.
The decisions we make could seem cold or inconsiderate. Some of our people won’t understand our choices. It’s all too common for employees to feel they are “just a number” to their organization. A tool that is used and can be discarded. That’s why we need to lead with compassion in this moment, because compassion disarms that thinking. Let’s take this weekend to practice some habits that will ensure our people hear and experience our compassion.
- Practice self-care. For compassionate interactions to emerge, we must pour out of ourselves and into others, but we cannot pour from an empty cup. We opened the week talking about the importance of self-care because it is the fuel that allows us to bring the best of ourselves to our people. Let’s take time this weekend to do activities that renew our minds, our bodies, and our souls. This will give us a foundation upon which to demonstrate compassionate leadership.
- Pay attention. We are likely moved by compassion numerous times throughout the day (e.g., when we see a struggling colleague, when our spouse is anxious, when our children cry, and when we think about all the people impacted by COVID-19), but we don’t always stop to acknowledge that moment. In fact, some of us may resist acknowledging the moment at all because it makes us uncomfortable. But when we pause and allow ourselves to be emotionally moved, we open the door for compassionate acts to happen. For the rest of today, let’s look for the moments when our compassion is awakened. Notice what it feels like, how our bodies react, and our immediate instincts toward the people and things that spark compassion.
- Act with kindness. Don’t overthink this step! Sometimes the action is simple. It can be listening, offering a smile or encouraging word, normalizing the struggle (“I am worried about COVID-19 too”), or telling others they will be in your thoughts and prayers (and then delivering on that promise). We aren’t always called upon to fix the issue, but we should always sit in the moment with others. Often, people don’t want us to solve their struggle, they just want us to know they’re struggling. To strike a balance between acting and over-acting, we can simply ask, “What can I do to help you in this moment?” Then, we listen and follow their lead.
Closing thought. Compassion is the chief law of human existence (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)