Empathy and compassion are critical leadership skills. I’ve always been someone who naturally exhibits both. Although I have always tried to live by these traits, I had not stopped to think about exploring the difference between the two until recently. Understanding the problems that someone is experiencing is very different to taking action and helping them.
The events of the last year have enabled many of us to reflect on our leadership styles and explore how to meet the evolving needs of employees in our organizations. I’m not perfect in any regard. But over the last twelve months, I have gained a much better understanding of the critical differences between empathy and compassion.
Empathy is about putting yourself in another person’s shoes. By investing your time, you can sense another’s feelings and understand what they’re going through. Compassion, on the other hand, is the action behind empathy. It’s daring to step in and find a way to alleviate the pain of another person and truly make a difference.
From an organizational view, it’s not just listening to what employees say on surveys or what they might raise in meetings. Ultimately, it’s about having an intent to act upon it and be more compassionate towards your employees. The biggest challenge for many organizations is learning how to become more compassionate.
Your journey will begin by committing to do something about anything you see, hear, or the inconvenient truths you might uncover. By increasing your interaction with your employees, it becomes much easier to gather a sense of how they’re feeling and understand their sentiment in a way that cannot be conveyed in digital communication.
Larry King once said that he reminds himself every morning that, “Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” You can’t be compassionate about something that you aren’t aware of. Creating a culture of listening through surveys, listening sessions, roundtables, and focus groups is an excellent place to start. But it’s also critical that managers listen when their people raise grievances, questions, concerns, or ideas.
As a leader, increasing your awareness is also critical to improving your empathy and compassion. Only leaving your ivory tower to attend stakeholder and shareholder meetings while ignoring what is happening inside your organization is possibly one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Having an organizational awareness of what’s happening in all the different facets from the organization’s top to the bottom is crucial.
I was recently talking to an HR professional, and she told me how much she appreciated a video that I put on this subject. The art of listening enables us all to be more compassionate and can play an essential role in increasing your organizational awareness. When you have this knowledge, you need to commit to responding and make a difference in your employees’ wellbeing.
These are three ways that we can build organizational compassion. When combined, they can transform you from organizational empathy to organizational compassion and make it action driven. As an empathetic person who deeply values the contributions of others, I have seen first-hand how employees openly share their concerns about their managers and organizational culture.
Now more than ever, the world needs empathetic and compassionate leaders. What meaningful steps are you going to take to listen, build trust, boost morale, and engage your workforce like never before?