The Rise of Compassionate Leadership
Companies are welcoming emotion at the office as a new breed of leaders emerges.
Lisa Earle McLeod felt the tears welling up. Staring back at her was a top performer, someone who didn’t deserve to be laid off. But there she was, doing just that, because of budget cuts at her company. The conversation was emotional and unfair, and she didn’t hold back how she felt.
“I was crying to myself when I let him go. In that moment, I thought, ‘I’m done being a robot at work,’” McLeod recalls.
That was years ago, a lesson where McLeod realized the old rule, never cry at work, is sorely dated.
Now, leaders like McLeod are moving away from old stigmas that work is an emotionless place and instead welcoming sensitivity, in moderate doses, as a way to better connect with one another, inspire productivity and even better serve their customers.
McLeod, author of Leading with Noble Purpose, has seen the rise of empathy in the workplace and says there are several dynamics at play.
Professionals today have an expectation to be emotionally satisfied at work, she explains. Also, as more females are entering the C-Suite, they are raising the bar for all leaders – men and women – and setting a new standard for empathic leadership.
“The leader’s emotional cadence sets the tone for the organization,” she adds.
Case in point: Allen Gannett, CEO of TrackMaven, a competitive intelligence platform for digital marketers. Earlier this year, Gannett was named to Forbes’ prestigious “30 Under 30” list, which noted how the startup raised $26.7 million and now employs 91 individuals.
For Gannett, leading with compassion and empathy means two things: Holding people accountable and caring about them. It’s also about recognizing that individuals, especially top performers, have many employment choices.
“They want to work somewhere where they are respected. Respect and compassion go hand in hand,” Gannett says.
Gannett recognizes that some respond emotionally to stressful situations. As a rule of thumb, Gannett says he doesn’t react emotionally. Instead, he actively listens, is emphatic to their feelings and empowers them to be the best versions of themselves for future situations.
Although more individuals are becoming comfortable expressing emotion at work, this historically hasn’t been the case, says Anne Kreamer, former worldwide creative director of Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite, and author of It’s Always Personal, a book that explores the new realities of emotion in the workplace.
“It used to be this convenient fiction that you’d put on your work uniform, go to a rational environment, come home, change and be your authentic self,” Kreamer says, noting the industrial revolution was a time where this mindset began.
An emotionless workplace was reinforced in the 1980s when “shareholder value became the holy grail” in corporations and profits came before people. But recently, businesses have come to put people first, a welcome change for employees.
“People crave to be treated with respect and not as a machine part,” Kreamer explains.
Even as the stigma of never expressing emotion at work diminishes, there are still some ground rules to follow.
Kreamer advocates coming up with strategies before stressful situations and understanding the triggers that push your buttons. If you’re a person who never feels heard and you have a meeting with a dominant voice, come up with a productive work-around to express yourself. One solution is pulling that person aside and having a direct conversation with them about your frustrations.
But if your frustrations or anger escalate to tears, don’t fret.
“If you do cry, know it’s not the end of the world,” Kreamer says. “If it happens, it’s telling you something important.”
Kreamer recommends expressing emotion at work as long as it’s consistent and stable. It helps to know who you are and how you operate, and manage that self-awareness to the best of your ability.
“Think before you talk and feel before you talk,” she advises.
There’s another side to emotional expression that doesn’t have historical baggage – tears of joy. Oftentimes, when a person is engaged and passionate, they’ll express tears out of sadness, anger and happiness, McLeod says.
“Those people will care enough to cry sometimes. It’s about bringing your whole self to work.”
With a dual background in journalism and public relations, Jennifer has a penchant for storytelling. A lifelong writer and a marketer by trade, Jennifer excels in helping others find their voice, discover their unique and compelling stories, and share them with the world. Her work has been featured in a number of local and regional publications throughout Arizona.