by Pat Schally, CPCC
Certified Business and Leadership Coach
Compassion—at first glance, it’s a word that conjures up a soft, even sappy feeling in my soul, like a nice, warm bath. But, like a bath, it doesn’t last for very long mostly due to distractions of daily life. It is an emotion that often requires some action on our part, and there’s not usually an immediate pay-off for this feeling. So, what do we do? We feel compassion all right, but it gets quickly buried under our lists of “to dos” and more immediate work and life pressures.
A web search supported my assumption by defining compassion as “A sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce such suffering; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Thus compassion is essentially empathy though with a more active slant in that the compassionate person will seek to actually aid those they feel compassionate for.” Ah-ha, so we need to act on this emotion!
In attempting to research this topic further, I searched a sampling of leadership books for some reference to compassionate leadership. Well, surprise! I could not find anything in my personal business library that specifically pointed to this component of leadership. However, I did find some thoughts on compassion in the workplace in David Whyte’s, “The Heart Aroused” and in some religious and spiritual writings referencing Christianity and Buddhism. It’s all there—one of the noble truths, acts of altruism, the Golden Rule, etc.
Being in an investigative mode, my somewhat erratic thought process led me to think about the differences between the words: compassion, feeling sorry and pity. The way I view it is that these three terms form a Hierarchy of Compassion. (1) “Feeling sorry” on the bottom because it’s an emotion that one can feel and not get emotionally involved yet still show some humanity; (2) “Pity” on the next rung because it is often felt when one encounters something or someone who is unfortunate and one might do something about it (donate to a worthy cause for example), and (3) “Compassion” at the highest point as an emotion of the heart, an all-encompassing emotion that puts one into action to try to aid or fix the situation. It is more empathy than sympathy. And in leadership, it puts leaders on a higher evolutionary plane. Not a bad place to be as a leader!
Arthur Jersild said, "Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment."
Surely there is a distinct place for compassion in the role as a leader. If leaders want their constituents to willingly follow them, then compassion for those whom they lead is critical to shared success. Isn’t it really an act of love? As Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, says when he challenges leaders to open their hearts: "Love them and lead them." So, perhaps the real definition of compassion is "Love in action." What actions are you taking today as a leader to fully embrace compassion and integrate it into your leadership style?
Pat Schally welcomes your thoughts on compassion and how you see it demonstrated or not in the workplace and in life. She is a certified business and leadership coach. Pat lives in Northern California with her husband and has two adult daughters and one grand daughter. She is passionate about coaching business leaders to become champions.
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