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Want to get more out of your team? Just show more ‘compassionate leadership’


Just what is “compassionate leadership?” Do you really need to bother?

An answer to the first is, well, nebulous. Lest you misconstrue, it’s not about being kind. Not at all. In fact, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, say leaders who coined the term.

But there is no confusing the second. If you are a leader of any kind, you had better make the effort to understand what compassionate leadership is all about, and, for your own good, learn to practice it as well.

That’s because a recent study by the Australian School of Business establishes a strong link between compassionate leadership and productivity, affirming a theory propounded by Geoff Aigner, an adjunct faculty member and director of the non-profit Social Leadership Australia.

“The single greatest influence on profitability and productivity within an organisation, according to the research project – which to date has taken in data from more than 5,600 people in 77 organisations – is the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognising their people, welcoming feedback, including criticism, and fostering co-operation among staff,” an article on Knowledge@ASB, a website UNSW runs in partnership with the Wharton School of Business, reported.

Carrying a team along

The survey also found that in “high-performing workplaces,” leaders are about one-fifth to one-third more compassionate. This is like discovering values in a successful organization. What might be more compelling, or persuasive, is an answer to its inverse: Do more compassionate leaders lead workplaces to perform consistently high?

Aigner set forth his theory on compassionate leadership in a book he co-authored, “Leadership Beyond Good Intentions – What It Takes To Really Make A Difference.”

Christina Boedker, a lecturer in accounting at the ASB who led the study, reportedly describes compassionate leadership as the ability “to understand people’s motivators, hopes and difficulties, and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be.”

Aigner makes the concept a little simpler – “the ability to take responsibility for the growth and development of others.”

Still, many top executives might like to interpret it in diverse ways. But hold that thought because you may not really matter. Your underlings – hardly the word of choice in the circumstance – might matter a whole lot more.

A key detail revealed in the survey is this:

“It’s the lowest level of leaders that drives a company’s profitability – because frontline managers are more customer-facing. Leadership exists at all levels – and compassion is a two-way thing – it flows from top down but also from bottom up.”

Regardless, we think a little compassion is in order in our society. A little more of that can only be better.