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How to be a compassionate leader

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Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do as a leader is to say 'no' and 'stop'. Jerene Ang explores the ins and outs of being a compassionate leader.

The saying is usually 'don't just sit there, do something'. But, with work demanding more and more today, we also want to do the opposite - 'don't just do things, sit there and be a human being.'

That's where the practice of mindfulness comes in.

There are three stages to modern mindfulness - being aware that there is a stressor, accepting that there is a stressor, and taking action to do something about it. We have to first build the foundation of awareness before we are able to accept the situation. Only from a place of acceptance and understanding are we able to do something about the stressors in our lives.

At the same time today's professionals have to practice mindful self-compassion. There is a need to be aware that suffering is present, take a moment to remind oneself that suffering is a part of being a human being (this is the common humanity of compassion, recognising that we are all human and we are all imperfect). Bearing that in mind, we have to be kind to ourselves.

Mindfulness and compassion becomes more important as professionals rise up the ranks, especially since a big part of a leader's job is to motivate the team, and motivation happens best in support, not fear.

Being a mindful leader is about responding rather than reacting. Here's what you need to know to be a compassionate leader:

  • Be empathic, sense the feeling of another person and put yourself in their shoes.
  • Have a sense of common humanity and recognise that even though your staff may be on different levels, they are still human and need to be treated so rather than as ‘resources’.
  • Be kind and compassionate, not kind and indulgent. Being compassionate doesn't mean to say nothing about performance, but rather to take action and provide constructive criticism from a place of trying to help. If your employees know you are trying to help them, they will give back more as well as appreciate the effort made into their personal development.
  • When we think of compassion, we normally think of the soothing side of it. However, there is also another side of compassion - which is taking action to provide, protect, and motivate change. Sometimes the most compassionate action to take is to say ‘no’ and ‘stop’.

This knowledge was shared at the first of Singapore Management University’s TY Lee Mindfulness Series, which saw Dr Steven Hickman, Founding Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, give a talk titled 'Mindfulness & Compassion in the New Millenium: How Ancient Practices Can Meet Modern Challenges'. The lecture saw more than 300 attendees, comprising students at the university.

Photo / iStock

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