Be Compassionate

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Compassion can give employees an extra boost. Weather it is overcoming personal problems, trouble at home, or job-specific challenges, workers appreciate a leader who cares about them and is concerned about their worries.

But before a leader can help, he needs to have empathy. If a manager really wants to help his people he has to imagine what someone who is in pain is going through. Leadership excellence partially depends on an ability to use empathy and stimulate appropriate action.

If you want to be a good leader you must stay in touch with those who work for you so that you get to know the people and what they are up against. One easy solution is to leave the executive suite and venture into the field. Whatever happened to managing by walking around?

An interesting version of the latter is practiced at Smucker’s, a leader in fruit spreads manufacturing. Once a year, chief executives roll up their sleeves to do operational jobs under the tutelage of the employee in that position. There is no finer way to understand the guts of the operations, the nature of the work, and employees’ perspectives than standing in their shoes.

There are many other ways a manager can help his employees but there is no textbook solution. You will be more likely to choose wisely if you keep a goal in mind: to promote improvement while preserving personal dignity. Sometimes you can say “I ‘m sure you can figure it out,” other times “Here, let me show you,” and sometimes “You have to lean in more toward the plate and use your wrists when you swing,” will be the appropriate course. Compassion is an instructive guide.

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