Compassionate Leadership

February 6, 2019 / Category: Leadership

Compassion. Such a powerful word. I’ve been using it for a lifetime. Turns out, I did not understand the essence of its meaning. And when it comes to building teams and being a good leader, the true meaning can be powerful.

There are four words that we often use interchangeably:

Pity, Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion.

When people hurt, we feel bad for them- that’s pity. In practical terms, pity is often seen as a negative. When we pity ourselves (a pity party), we’re likely in a place of weakness or disempowerment.  When others express pity, it can connote feelings of superiority, condescension, or contempt. No one is moved to do better by pity – self or otherwise!

Business woman consoling her friend that suffering about problem working

When we acknowledge appreciation for someone’s pain, we express sympathy. We’re letting them know that we are aware of their pain or situation. As Dictionary.com says: “agreement or harmony in qualities between things or people.” In practice, it’s more often used to convey commiseration or feelings of sorrow for someone else who is experiencing misfortune. We express sympathy, and it helps us connect with people. It’s important as leaders and colleagues to express sympathy at times of loss or pain. People appreciate it.

To connect with someone for the pain or upset in their lives, we express empathy- “the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person.” Bill Clinton was famous for his ‘I can feel your pain.’ It says, “I’ve been there. I know this place. I can feel it.” As leaders or teammates, we connect more deeply when we’re empathetic. It’s an important powerful way to build trust and deepen relationships. However, when we express that ‘we know how you feel,’ it can backfire. No two persons have the same experience, no matter how similar the situations may seem. My loss of a loved one is different from yours. And letting people know you’ve felt similar pain is always a good thing.

Woman supporting her colleague after hard working day

To connect with people’s pain or upset and help them do and feel better…that’s compassion with emotion. Compassion is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

As leaders and teammates – at home and at work – we need to avoid pity, express sympathy, feel empathy and collaborate with compassion. Helping people achieve success – and overcoming obstacles – is true leadership.

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