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Compassionate Leadership Is Not Soft

By David Penglase

I struggle to come to terms with what so many people refer to as ‘SOFT SKILLS’. A skill is a skill. Whether it’s soft or hard is irrelevant. What’s important is whether the skill is being learned and applied at a level of competence or mastery that results in desired goal achievement.


I don’t understand how anyone can think that managing, leading, influencing, motivating, communicating, coping, creating, and almost anything to do with personal flourishing or interacting with others, are ‘SOFT SKILLS’.


Let’s take leadership as an example. The very notion that there’s anything soft about leadership is an absurd position to take. Leadership is a privilege – not just a position and it’s certainly not ‘SOFT’. It can be quite difficult and challenging, and yet at the same time, it can be extremely rewarding, valuable, exciting and inspirational.


In Shawn Murphy’s soon to be released book The Optimistic Workplace – creating an environment that energizes everyone he makes the point that work ought to mean something, it ought to give our life more meaning. There’s certainly nothing soft about the amount of effort it takes to build a work environment and culture that nurtures optimism, trust, engagement and success.


The positive impact that good leadership can have across all measures of an organisation’s success almost demands of us to constantly be reminding, coaching, teaching and mentoring existing and aspiring leaders on what it really does mean to be a ‘good’ leader.


In this post I want to focus on just one trait, one character strength of good leadership – compassion.


As I was doing my research for this post, every time I read the word compassion, I was imagining the eye rolls and potential disconnect that some (many?) leaders today might sadly display.

Compassion is one of the 24 evidence-based character strengths classified in the Values In Action (VIA) Character Strengths, and is a subset of the virtue of ‘Humanity'(one of the six evidence-based core virtues of good character).


This video from the team at Happify cleverly explains what compassion is, and more importantly, how practical and easy it is for anyone (even those who see it as SOFT) to practice it more, and WHY they should.


As you watch it, think about how compassion in a leader would be evidence in thoughts, words, behaviour and action. Think beyond how compassion might produce a warm and positive emotional response from the person toward whom the compassion is being directed, but what might result in more practical workplace behaviour because of the heightened positive emotion that the person is feeling.


I’ve watched this video a number of times now, and each time, as I try and look beyond the simple message of ‘let’s be kind to one another’, I keep returning to how that simple message is really what every good leader I have had the privilege of working with has displayed.


My good friend Gihan Perera has also just released his latest book The Future of Leadership – nine things successful leaders do now and he highlights that anyone in or aspiring toward a leadership role ought to be working on themselves to be the type of leader their team will want to support and follow. He aptly points out that “The future of leadership starts with you.”


Compassionate leadership is one of the core ingredients that make up the very hard to define ‘Charismatic Leader’, and a character trait that I would highly recommend you take stock of your own truth about the amount of compassion you personally and genuinely demonstrate in your professional and personal life.


To develop your compassion as a leader, start by getting clear about your intention for the people you have in your team. What do you want for them – not what do you want from them. Share your intentions with each individual, work with them to create a place at work where people want to be, where they will feel a sense of optimism, pride, and meaning.


Compassion is just one of many traits and behavioural choices that make a good leader, and when practiced with genuine enthusiasm, will make positive inroads to creating a thriving business where leaders and their teams can flourish.





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