As a Leader, How Are You Investing: in You, Your Team & Your Organisation?

A leader’s purpose

A leader’s purpose is to have a positive impact on others and create positive change for the ‘greater good’. Resilient leaders do this through compassion—or tough love.

Message received—LOUD and CLEAR!

Like it or not, we are continually broadcasting our own emotional setup, reactions, and undisclosed judgements of others. For a leader, the implications are huge. “What am I saying?” and “Is my tone of voice, expressions, and presence consistent with my values?”

If not, a leader can expect to witness conflict and low resonance amongst staff.

Resilient and credible leaders integrate and synchronise values, thoughts, emotions, expressions, and presence.

The easy road oft travelled

Based on an ongoing study with thousands of executives, Daniel Goleman identified six leadership styles.

The default, and for many, the 'easiest' leadership styles often used are—Commanding and Pacesetting. These styles are focused on tasks and outcomes, often at the expense of staff wellbeing, retention, and performance.

The remaining four leadership styles (Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic and Visionary), Goleman referred to as 'resonant' but these depend on the skilled demonstration of empathy — “Can I walk in someone else’s shoes?”

Leadership that adds value requires an investment of time and energy. Unfortunately, in the busy world of large organisations, empathy is all too often the casualty of back-to-back meetings, 60-hour weeks OR a lack of motivation to enquire.

Empathy starts with a curiosity about others and involves active listening, tuning into non-verbal cues, being open to diversity, and ultimately the ability to see the perspective of others.

According to Paul Ekman (2008); however, the key is to not let emotional recognition become emotional resonance—when a leader identifies too closely i.e. they’re angry at a situation, I feel angry at that situation too.

Social Investment Model

The Social Investment Model (see graphic below) provides a framework for leaders to work out how they can and should be investing socially.

Springfox sees empathy at the centre of this model.

©️ Springfox 2023

Leading with Care

What is compassion? Compassion is 'empathy in action'.

Springfox defines compassion as 'caring for self and others in pursuit of the greater good'. Compassion is not soft. Compassion takes the bigger picture into account.

According to Ekman (2008), compassion is seeking to relieve the suffering of the other person. It does not rely on the leader owning the emotions and issues of the person—awareness, yes, ownership, no.

The compassionate leader appreciates the talents of their team members and seeks to liberate their potential.

The compassionate leader creates a calm culture; not breeding fear through punishment for performance gaps; these are instead viewed as learning and coaching opportunities.

Individuals with a poor organisational or skill fit may be assisted to find their passion in other roles or organisations. Building on strong empathy for the individual’s situation, a compassionate leader seeks to help the individual to see a more realistic and optimistic future, and a pathway to that future.

Compassion earns the respect and discretionary effort that creates high-performance and high-trust cultures.

Leading with Over-care

For some leaders, compassion creates personal anxiety and is actively avoided.

The easier option is to put 'empathy into action' i.e. using sympathy.

What is sympathy? Sympathy is ‘soft’ love.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for others. Sympathy is leader as friend to avoid conflict or aim for compromise rather than win/win. Sympathy is a leader agreeing with and owning the emotions and situation of the individual.

The sympathetic leader is unable to move beyond emotional resonance (Ekman, 2008) with the other person. Unfortunately, there are no winners with a sympathetic leader.

Sympathetic resolutions typically result in inequity for other staff and short-term benefit for the individual.

The sympathetic leader becomes ineffective AND emotionally drained; the individual’s emotional state deepens, and the organisational culture comes to expect this leadership approach.

Leading without Care

For leaders who adopt a Commanding or Pacesetting style, empathy and compassion (and sympathy) are too soft, complicated, inappropriate and time-consuming. The approach for these leaders is to socially invest through social ignorance (not aware), indifference (don’t care) or contempt (don’t respect).

A small subset “stir the emotional pot” through organisational politics and antipathy (coercion, bullying). It's no surprise that Goleman’s research shows these leadership styles and approaches to social investment are correlated with the destruction of organisational value.

The Mirror Test

As a leader, ask yourself the following questions to ascertain your leadership style and level of social investment:

  1. On the model of Social Investment, from which sector do I lead when times are good?
  2. Where on the model of Social Investment is the executive team and culture of my organisation?
  3. Can I empathise with and have compassion for people who disagree with me or have a different value-set?
  4. What could I do each day to build compassion for people at work, home or in my community?

Ways for Leaders to Build Compassion

Start with Empathy

Listen deeply to others. Be interested in their emotions and perspectives and tune into facial expressions and body language.

Notice When Anger Arises

What is the source of the anger? Can I regulate my anger by building empathy and compassion for the source of the anger (self or others?)

Catch Your Thoughts

Actively catch yourself falling into contempt with moral judgements of others. Start with an optimistic assumption that most people are coming from a good place. Their motivation and beliefs may simply be different to your own.

Ways for Leaders to Build Empathy

Pay Attention

Make sure you take time to rest, recover and prepare. Short meetings aid awareness. Use affirmative engagement i.e. "yes", "ah-ha" and "I". Also, endeavour to build in time to pause and reflect on situations.

Read Non-Verbal Cues

Invest in facial expression training and voice training.

Acknowledge/understand perspectives of others

Endeavour to encourage each voice (or style) to the table and acknowledge different thoughts and feelings. Take time to build connections and respectfully get to know the whole person.

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Keep well.

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