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How to lead compassionately in a remote working world

By Mark Staniland, Managing Director of Hays Ireland

Compassion is an integral leadership quality which is needed to support your team through thick and thin. But never has leading compassionately been more important than it is today in light of a rapidly changing world of work, which is operating more remotely than it has before.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that leaders need to adapt their management style under the current circumstances, and compassion ought to be pertinent to a new leadership style to get the best out of your teams.

What a compassionate leader looks like
Being a compassionate leader is not about ‘going soft’ or constantly being at the beck and call of your team. Instead, it’s about:

  • Having awareness and self-respect
  • Putting yourself in the shoes of others
  • Understanding your role as the conductor of the orchestra, not a player
  • Making your people feel empowered and accountable for their work
  • Providing constructive and valuable feedback to your team

Ultimately compassionate leadership is about you, as a leader, doing everything you can to ensure the team around you thrives. It’s about you ensuring they have all the support they need to be creative, to problem solve, to push themselves out of their comfort zones and to learn. When you take a truly compassionate approach to leadership, you will ultimately ensure that your team will not only adapt to this constant backdrop of change, but they will thrive in it.

Steps to becoming a compassionate leader
The good news is that we can all learn to become more compassionate leaders. Here are a few steps you can take:

1.Take some time to self-reflect: Self-reflection is a positive first step to becoming a more compassionate leader. Try to think of times when you may have resorted to less-than-desirable tactics when managing or leading your people.

For example, at a time when you had a project deadline fast-approaching where one of your colleagues was a major player. Did you ask them something along the lines of: “…are you going to get it done on time?” If so, in this situation, a more compassionate approach would be to ask them something like, “…the deadline is next week, do you have everything you need to get it done in time?” Articulating your support for your team is far more helpful and constructive, particularly during busy times when the pressure is on.

Try to recall examples like these when you reflect on your leadership style to identify consistent scenarios where you could take a more compassionate approach as a leader.

2. Be aware of your language: Using your words in a way that show your understanding of how your people feel in certain challenging situations – empathising with their situation, rather than merely sympathising – can make an immense difference to how positively and productively your team works as a unit.

Phrases such as “I can see how important this is to you”, “I know this can be frustrating”, “let’s see if we can solve this together” and “I’d like to help you if I can” strike at the heart of compassionate leadership as a form of ‘co-suffering’. Language like this is key to communicating to your workers that you genuinely share their pain, instead of merely claiming to understand their pain.

3. Show your authentic, human self: Part of being a compassionate leader is about showing your authentic self to those you work with. This will allow your people to feel comfortable in asking you for support, thus building a culture of trust and learning within your team. Don’t be afraid to show your ‘real’ self.

Being honest about your shortcomings and skills gaps will go a long way to achieving this. Remember, your role as a leader is to be the ‘conductor of your orchestra’, bringing each part together at the right time to create something great. As our CEO, Alistair Cox says, “… you don’t need to be the most qualified person on your team. It’s not your job to be ‘better’ than everyone else, or indeed to be ‘better’ at everything than everyone else.” As a leader, you are on just as much of a learning and development journey as your employees.

4. Seek everyone’s point of view: It can bring real benefits to your team and, indeed, your wider workplace, if you are able to clear your mind, put your personal views to one side, and try to see situations from the perspective of your people. Always attempt to envisage yourself in the shoes of your team members in every challenging scenario you face.

Doing this will help you build a more inclusive team culture, one where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are heard, which can only ever be a good thing for both your team members and the wider business. It will also help you better understand and plan for what exactly your team members need from you in order to overcome challenges, adapt to change and solve problems.

5. Create a psychologically-supportive culture: Occasional errors and mistakes are to be expected. What’s important is how we learn from them and refine our approach for next time. Compassionate leaders know this. They will take steps to create a psychologically supportive culture within their teams – a culture whereby everyone feels empowered and supported to try new things and take moderate risks, even if they make mistakes and things don’t go as planned.

If errors are made, your team should know they won’t be unfairly chastised or punished. Instead, you ought to encourage your people to take everything they can from the situation, see it as a learning experience, and move on.

6. Engage with your employees as people – not just employees: Your people are human beings, not robots, so treat them like the former, not the latter. Show your employees that you ‘have their back’ and can (and will) step in to provide any assistance or support they might need.

Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need from you, and how you can help them to ensure they get a particular task done to a high standard and by the deadline. Also, show an interest in their personal lives, grabbing coffee or lunch together virtually from time to time, and asking them how their weekend was, for example. While your team are working remotely, make time to chat to them casually as well as purely about work.

7. Realise the value of good feedback: Giving feedback well is an important element of compassionate leadership as it opens the recipients’ eyes to the changes they need to make in order to thrive. Importantly, a compassionate leader will always explain that they are ultimately there to help their team improve – whilst giving them the resources they need to succeed and being clear on what improvements they expect to see.

The most effective leaders know that it’s perfectly possible to be compassionate, whilst also genuinely holding their team members to account for their performance. If you’re keen to understand how you can get better at giving feedback, as this blog outlines, you must ensure that the feedback you give is:

  • Regular, frequent and ongoing
  • Sincere and honest
  • Timely
  • Concise
  • Future-orientated
  • Not judgemental
  • Shared in private

In today’s uncertain and constantly changing world of work, never has a compassionate approach to leadership been more important. With so many professionals now working remotely, showing your compassionate side should be at the forefront of every leaders’ mind. You have the ability to ensure every person on your team has what they need to thrive, no matter where they’re based.

If you have any further questions or concerns about hiring in the current climate, please contact your Hays consultant, or visit our Inspire Me in the New Era of Work Hub to access a collection of resources that will help you to manage your team, undertake interviews and successfully onboard new candidates – all whilst working remotely.

About this author

Mark joined Hays in 1985 as a trainee consultant and has been in various roles, sectors and locations during his time at Hays. He is a Board member and in 2019 his responsibilities extended to Hays Ireland.

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