In our organization, we realized that in order to lead others, we had to care about them. The organization is primarily a blue collar mining company; saying we had to care about others was like saying we had to develop wings and fly. It didn’t make sense at the time and it took us six months to figure out how to do it (my boss at the time sent me roses; I called him and told him never to care about me again). Then, we spent the next decade practicing caring about others.
One of the tricks to caring about other people—even those you don’t like—is developing compassion for them. Compassion is about acceptance—accepting other people as they are, not as we wish them to be. It’s about seeing what’s best in them, and trying to understand and have empathy for what we don’t believe is best in them. Compassion does not mean we allow them to hurt us, or to take advantage of us, or to not perform their job. It means we get out of the business of trying to change them. Trying to change others doesn’t work; it’s like teaching a fish to climb a tree. It’s frustrating for us and irritating for the fish.
Compassion is more about us than it is about others—it means that we are aware of what makes us care for others or not, and then choosing to care about them anyway. It’s bolstered by our curiosity and strengthened by our empathy, which is really just understanding why a person feels the way they do, not necessarily agreeing. Our lack of compassion is often tied to our core values—those deeply ingrained beliefs about what’s right and true in the world. When someone doesn’t align with our values, our compassion for them heads for the hills. Often, we feel if we are compassionate towards another person (especially when they are different than we are) that somehow we will lose something, or be hurt, or be less than we are. Often, the opposite is true—the more compassion we have for others, the more we become.
Compassion increases our effectiveness as leaders, just as learning how to care about one another increases our effectiveness as a company. Although, please don’t send roses.