“Be human. Show me you care about me and the other employees.” This was the most common response given by employees when asked to respond to the question: "How would you like to be treated by those who lead you?”

The other responses that showed up in this open-ended question included:

  • “Be treated like an individual human with unique needs.”
  • “Care about your employees and families.”
  • “With humility and humanity.
  • “Don’t communicate using corporate speak.”
  • “Express empathy, kindness, and concern for the people working in your company.”
  • “Appreciate your employees and teams.”

These results were shared in a survey by The Center for Compassionate Leadership, which collected over 200 responses from 22 countries, including the US, UK, Singapore, Rwanda, and France, to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on leadership and compassion.

While the above represented the open-ended responses, other questions included more specific pointers for respondents to pick from. For example, they were asked to choose the top three emotions from a list of 15 that they feel in the current crisis.

The most common choice, by both leaders and team members, is the emotion of anxiety. 44% of leaders and 37% of team members report feeling anxious. Beyond that, the emotional experience diverged substantially.

The largest gap is around resilience, with 35% of leaders saying they feel resilient, but only 15% of team members put it among their top three choices. Resilience, the ability to adapt to and learn from adversity, is precisely the attribute organisations will want from their team members as we emerge from the current crisis. 

Team members expressed feeling more powerless and angry than leaders. Of team members surveyed, 28% said they are feeling powerless. Among leaders, on the other hand, only 17% express feeling powerless. A fifth (20%) of team members are feeling angry, as opposed to only 7% of leaders. 

The gap between how leaders and employees feel was also brought out on the topic of compassion. Leaders are much more likely to say that they are leading with compassion (67%) through the current crisis than what is being felt by team members - only 39% of team members say they are experiencing more compassion from their leaders.

When it comes to showing vulnerability by showing feelings, 54% of leaders say they are being vulnerable, while only 28% of team members say they are observing the same thing from their leaders.

These gaps are in contrast with areas of information sharing, communicating openly and frequently, and encouraging a sense of optimism, where team members are much more likely to say that their bosses are showing those behaviours. In fact, team members observed these behaviours at rates much more closely aligned with the rates that the bosses say they are displaying them.

Emotional intelligence generally, and compassion and vulnerability specifically, are critical elements of compassionate leadership. These survey results help point leaders to the areas they need to focus on: compassionate behaviours, recognising common humanity, being willing to be vulnerable, developing team resilience, and empowering their teams.

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