Phil Jackson, the legendary basketball coach with 11 NBA championship titles to his name, views compassion as a central tenet to successful leadership. In his memoir, ‘Eleven Rings’, he explains that “showing compassion towards players, no matter how tough they seem, helped strengthen their relationship”. Phil is a great example of a compassionate leader, but what does being compassionate mean and what does it take to be compassionate?

For me, compassion means that you show through your words and actions that you care about the people you work with. Compassionate leaders also create safe environments for their teams which enable them and their organisation to flourish.

Whilst this sounds quite simple, in reality, it can be quite challenging. We’re all under a lot of pressure at work, especially this year. Personal worries, stress, and remote working can limit our capacity to clearly demonstrate that we care.

So how can you embrace compassion and increase psychological safety? Try incorporating these actions into how you lead:

1. Suspend judgement and be curious – Rather than blame or decide if something is right or wrong, take time to understand and explore why something didn’t work or have the desired impact. This approach results in shared learning and helps create solutions-focused dialogue.

2. Communicate considerately – We often speak without thinking, and the first thing we say can significantly impact how people respond. Ridiculing or making derogatory remarks can deter people from contributing or pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. The word ‘why’ can also often result in a defensive response. Instead, take a moment to consider your response and the impact you want to have. Try saying ‘tell me more’ instead of ‘why’ or thank someone for their input before deciding on the way forward.

3. Listen deeply (to what is said and isn’t) – It is important to listen deeply to accurately perceive how people feel and understand what they’re saying whilst making them feel heard. Pay attention to body language, which appears at odds with what’s being said – it could tell you a lot.

4. Seek feedback – Asking for feedback on how you delivered difficult messages, and the impact of a tough conversation can increase trust and demonstrate that you’re open to improving.

5. Pay attention to the small things – Take time for small acts of attention and kindness that show appreciation, respect, and understanding – they really do make a difference.

These examples of compassion can have a transformational impact on your team’s wellbeing and performance.

What do you do to enhance the feeling of safety for your teams? Let us know in the comments below. 

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