Why compassionate leadership good for business

There is a correlation between kind leaders and happy workplaces.  Happy staff work harder, are more engaged, motivated and productive, take less unscheduled leave and are more likely to stay with their employer. 

A culture of unhappiness is catastrophic for productivity and an epic failure of leadership.  This failure is either a consequence of the leader failing to understand the importance of positive culture or being incapable of achieving it.

The most common reason that people in leadership positions do not become compassionate leaders is either ignorance or narcissism.

Ignorance is usually the result of inadequate education about the role of a leader.  All new leaders must understand that the day they are promoted to a leadership position is the day they become responsible for the output of others.  The title leader bestows the following responsibilities:

  • an obligation to cultivate a high-performance culture in which staff want to collaborate
  • an obligation to cultivate a high-performance culture in which staff want to achieve the organisation’s goals
  • an obligation to be the best leader that individual can be
  • an obligation to understand that the most important asset of any organisation is its people, if, and only if, those people are productive
  • the responsibility for the wellbeing of others
  • an obligation to cultivate a healthy and safe work environment where the basic and psychological needs of staff are met.

Ignorance about the role of compassionate leadership can be overcome with learning. 

Narcissism is more challenging as narcissists tend to be unaware of the need to change.  The day a staff member is promoted to a leadership role, is not the day they are given license to be a narcissist. The title leader does not bestow a right to yell or bully. The title leader does not transform a human into a God who, from that moment forward, is always right. The title leader does not exempt a person from the need to listen, consult and learn.  The Golden Rule does not just apply in the world outside the workplace. The principle of treating others as you want to be treated is just as applicable to the leader as it is to the staff member.

Disengaged staff do not produce.  Disengaged staff either leave; or stay and sabotage organisations.  Statistical research firm, Gallup estimates the cost of replacing an individual staff member is between one and a half to two times the staff annual salary.  It is, therefore, a financial imperative to keep staff engaged.

People are productive when they are engaged in the work they are doing.  When they understand or are motivated to understand the what, why and how to achieve the mission of the organisation.  When these productive people produce, organisations prosper.

In the same way that the body’s natural pleasure chemicals, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, increase the effectiveness and wellbeing of leaders when they behave with compassion; so too are they released in staff when they are on the receiving end of compassion.  Oxytocin is produced by your staff through human connection and trust.  When staff feel heard, when they trust you and when they trust each other the oxytocin produced will increase their confidence, optimism, happiness, and trustworthiness; while decreasing their risk of illness.  As such, they will be happier, more productive and take less sick leave.  Serotonin, which increases happiness, cognition, learning, and memory is stimulated through positive feedback and accomplishments.  Endorphins, the body’s natural stress relievers are produced in response to laughter and kindness so for a healthier and happier workforce, leaders should be cultivating a fun and joyful work environment.   And finally, dopamine, the body’s great motivator, is produced when your staff achieve success.  Dopamine is known to be associated with increased physical or mental effort, maintained interest and learning.  Leaders can increase the dopamine levels in their staff by recognising and celebrating the successes

It is essential that leaders not only understand their role in building and maintaining a healthy, vibrant, warm, welcoming culture but that they understand how to build it.  Fortunately, science has shown us how.  We know that staff who feel valued and cared about produce chemicals that will contribute to their output and it is this output that determines the success of the business.  It is, therefore, a financial imperative that leaders know what matters to their staff, what they enjoy doing and what they find frustrating.  With this knowledge leaders are better able to provide a workplace where staff can operate at optimum capacity.

Compassionate leaders must not only meet the psychological needs of their staff, but they should also attempt to provide environments for staff to self-actualise.  This means creating a space where staff are highly skilled, highly absorbed, have a sense of ownership and control and are challenged to grow.  When this happens staff, work ceases to be work becomes a pleasurable activity worth doing for its own sake.  This state of ecstasy at work leads to the production of more happy chemicals and the cycle continues.

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