Leadership with Heart: 5 Steps to Being a More Compassionate Leader

ITA Group
ITA Group

Two employees having a conversation.

There will always be divergent opinions about what traits are most important for strong leadership. But there's one trait every successful leader must have—compassion. While compassion isn't something you're born with, it does grow out of considerate behavior; a kind word here and a generous gesture there can really make someone’s day. Even the smallest and simplest acts can have the biggest impacts.

One of the most revered traits leaders can demonstrate is empathy—the ability to understand and relate to the emotions of another, as well as the ability to demonstrate that you know what the other person is feeling and going through.

Kindness and compassion go hand in hand with empathy, and both work together to help you be a relatable and accessible leader. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are 5 steps leaders can take to begin to be more compassionate. But don’t just save them for the holiday—practice them all year round to spread the love.

1. Take a Moment to Really Learn About Your People.

Too many of us contribute to every conversation with statements about ourselves and what we’ve accomplished. A considerate and compassionate leader understands that “I” isn’t especially useful as a conversation starter. When leaders stop focusing on their own egos they’re able to develop other leaders.

The entire practice of compassion is about going from self to others—from “I” to “we.” Those who already focus on the value of others have a head start.

2. Show Your Gratitude for the Work They Do.

We all want to be appreciated for the good work we do, and to feel that we play an important role in the companies we work for. When leaders show appreciation and gratitude to their employees, they clearly demonstrate their kindness—earning the respect, admiration and loyalty of their people in return.

There are lots of ways for leaders to show they care through support, mentorship and guidance, and especially approval. When a leader expresses recognition, employees feel appreciated and organizations accomplish great things.

3. Be the Bridge that Links Your Employees.

When you are kind, your people don't feel that you're a cold robot—simply barking orders and demanding obedience. Instead, through outward and visible displays of warmth, you're able to show how much you care about others—and experience firsthand just how much others care about you in return.

Compassionate leaders seek influence—not authority. They don’t demand, they encourage. They lead with hope. They guide, acknowledge and support team members to combine their efforts, skills, talents, insights, passion, enthusiasm and commitment to work together for the greater good.

People often produce higher quality products more efficiently when collaborating. Commit to this by actively embracing opportunities for healthy cooperation. Make teamwork an attractive aspect of workplace culture. Less burnout, increased trust among peers and enhanced interpersonal relationships will result.

An environment where everyone can collaborate by sharing their ideas and offering creative solutions is an organization that thrives and—not coincidentally—where leadership excels.

4. Understand Your Reach Goes Beyond the Workplace.

The way you lead impacts the way people live. As leaders, you need to do good while doing less harm. You should provide resources to help facilitate healthier living, while fostering caring environments where team members have opportunities to become their best selves.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “Research suggests that the most powerful way leaders can improve employee wellbeing is not through programs and initiatives but through day-to-day actions. For example, data from a large study run by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute shows that having a harsh boss is linked to heart problems in employees. On the other side of the coin, research demonstrates that leaders who are inspiring, empathetic, and supportive have more loyal and engaged employees.”

If 88% of people do not feel they’re part of an organization that cares about them, then it’s hard to deny that a lack of compassion is contributing to the health care crisis.

5. If You Talk the Talk, You Have to Walk the Walk.

The best leaders are those who lead from the heart. Those who have the ability to inspire others through kindness, flexibility, support and empowerment. The best way to accomplish that is simply to be a genuinely positive person. It’s that easy.

When you can develop a positive mental attitude and be the kind of leader who always has something uplifting to say, you make people feel comfortable around you. They’ll also feel secure enough to come and talk with you if any concerns or issues arise amid projects or teams.

When you treat people with compassion they won’t soon forget. You cultivate people who want to work for you not because of what you do but because of who you are.

Make your Leadership Style One that Leads with Love

Leading with love and compassion is a winning leadership strategy on many levels. The good news is that compassionate leadership can be learned. With simple practices you can become more compassionate and bring more wisdom to your team. As you look ahead, think about how you can share your appreciation, respect and caring with your team. All it takes is an investment of your time, energy and focus. Find out more about how gratitude creates a thriving workplace.