A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation on “Balancing Personal Accountability with Compassion” at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. The experience was at the same time encouraging, engaging, and informative. I appreciate the opportunity to lead an open conversation with 125 interested participants!
In my experience, people know what it means to take personal accountability and what it means to be compassionate; they have worked with leaders who demonstrate one or both of these qualities. Taking personal accountability is still an appropriately prized leadership quality; after all, leaders take personal responsibility for results and “get it done”. But compassion in leadership is less common.
The conversation at Wisdom 2.0 reminded me that it’s still an exception for people to observe compassion from leaders in business, although in our conversation there were some clear examples shared. People know what compassion in leadership looks like. For example, they take notice when leaders express vulnerability (such as acknowledging an illness in their family, or expressing genuine caring for people impacted by downsizing or reorganization). They appreciate when leaders take the time to demonstrate personal caring (such as personally greeting line managers in town hall meetings or in the hallways, or sending notes or appreciation for outstanding performance).
We talked a bit about what we can do to promote this type of leadership in our organizations. This might include modeling compassion along with personal accountability so as to lead by example wherever we can. We can also keep the topic of compassion present in our team meetings as well in our leadership development initiatives, remembering the positive impact it has on culture and productivity. And very importantly, we can acknowledge the leaders around us- at all levels- when they are courageous enough to demonstrate compassion. I believe there is huge power in acknowledging what has a positive impact on us personally as well on our teams and our business results. We remember the leaders who have encouraged us to express more of our humanness while maintaining high standards of technical performance.
Earlier at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, Jeff Weiner (the CEO of LinkedIn) and Fred Koffman (author of Conscious Business and co-founder of Axialent) had shared some thoughts and experiences of Accountability and Compassion coming together. Mr. Weiner talked about his focus on ‘compassionate leadership’, and how he’s often had to expand (his word) the definition of compassion so as to bring it to many different leadership situations. For example, he talked about how he’s had to bring compassion to employment termination conversations. In my view, this is an example of bringing the ‘softness’ of compassion into an important conversation that would otherwise only be ‘hard’ and impersonal.
One of the most impactful comments from their conversation was how difficult it can be to show compassion. Yes, compassion is a ‘soft’ skill, but it’s hard to actually practice, particularly in tough situations. People think compassion is easy, Mr. Weiner said, but in real life situations it often isn’t. You have to be very strong to show compassion.
Mr. Weiner closed his session by leading the audience of about 2,000 in singing the Otis Redding classic, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”. Appropriate for San Francisco, after all.
What are your thoughts and feelings about the impact of balancing personal accountability with compassion? What are your stories of success? I recently was in a leadership discussion with the former lead pilot of the Blue Angels, an elite group of pilots in the US Navy. He was talking about workplace cultures that foster very high levels of execution. First, he talked about the need for cultures of caring and cultures of excellence. And then he added: you can’t really separate the two. What’s your experience of the impact of the blend of these two key aspects of leadership?
(see previous post)