Leadership and Compassion

During an initial interview with a new client he told me in a beaten down tone that he is truly discouraged. After doing “everything right” for several years, he had not seen any positive impact on his business.  The business had stagnated and profit margins were even further reduced. Despite handling all issues with compassion, the morale of his staff had deterioratcompassion1ed and service levels to internal and external customers was suffering.

When I asked him what he considers as being compassionate he talked for a long time about kindness, actively listening to and feeling with his associates when they talk about challenges they face and helping them to overcome them by providing positive guidance. He spoke with great kindness about the struggles they faced and his facial expression, gestures, tone and words perfectly matched his deep feelings and concerns. I asked him about the solution they found and he talked about the accommodations and the shift in responsibilities he made and his stepping in and taking on a greater and greater slice of the daily workload. A truly caring leader.

When we analyzed his workweek, which included far too often the entire Saturday, we quickly found out that he spends most of his time performing parts of one of his associates’ work, fighting fires and dealing with dissatisfied customers. Many authors and consultants call this working in the business rather than on the business. For a business to stay relevant, it has to change. Our society is clearly changing its behavioral preferences and buying habits and successful businesses adapt and innovate with those changes. A stagnant business is actually losing ground – as it happened with my client’s business.

As discussed in prior newsletters- the leaders or business owner’s #1 job is to drive and facilitate the needed change.  This takes thought and time for developing needed changes and goals. To be successful we need chunks of uninterrupted think time and associates who perform their assigned duties.

The famous author Steven Covey classified conflict and conflict resolutions with win – win, win – lose, lose- win or lose- lose expressions. Extending kindness without dealing with the real issue is leading always to a lose – win situation.  In this case the unconditioned kindness of my client led his associates to stretch him every day in reducing their workload at his expense, their getting out of difficult assignments, or even not showing up for work at all.

Don’t get me wrong; being compassionate is a must own skill for a motivating and coaching leader.  However,  being compassionate entails being kind and at the same time tough. A compassionate leader must deal with reality in an open and honest way, even if the message is difficult or painful. If we only use kindness to soothe or to address the same challenge over and over, we do not strive for the win – win resolution and avoid the challenging conversation.  Thus the losing position, by  reacting slowly, being always gentle and understanding and doing nothing when action is needed, doesn’t help the person who created the challenge. In addition, the other associates, who perform their job as assigned, become tired of picking up the slack for others and lose their motivation, too. It is like in any sports. If the referee only enforces the rules on some players while others are unchallenged, the game will fall into chaos.

Please, practice being compassionate in every discussion you have and always re member that leading with compassion always needs to lead to win – win solutions. In most cases this requires dealing with reality and balancing the needs of a business with the needs of clients and associates.

About Joe Mayer…

Joe is an author, national speaker and facilitator who ignites passion and energy through dynamic presentations and engaging workshops focusing on strategic business growth, leadership development, and targeted sales and marketing.  An adjunct Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he is an expert in Innovation, Emotional Intelligence and Team Building.


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