You come home absolutely exhausted from another long day at work – and now you have to do your “real” work because you’ve spent all day in meetings and those drive-by conversations with your team, your peers, and your leaders. You are stressed to the max and you’re not sure you can take another day like this – and you know tomorrow will be more of the same. What can you do?

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”  ~ John Holmes

You’re kidding, right? I’m so bogged down in work I don’t have time to help myself much less others!

Have you ever heard of the boiling frog story? Drop a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will immediately jump out. But place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature, the frog will remain in the water, unaware of the rising temperature until it is too late. It’s easy for leaders to become boiling frogs in our pots of stress!

First, many leaders become tolerant of and train themselves to ignore stress and its effects on them physically and mentally. Second, we humans tend to see only what we want to see – especially when we’re stressed. Third, people rarely give honest feedback to their leaders. Few of them are brave enough to confront a leader when the stress of the leader is affecting the team. For the sake of your team, and for the sake of your health and being an effective leader, you must recognize when you’re in a boiling pot of stress – and intentionally do something about it!

One avenue I want to explore with you today is renewal through compassion for your team. Compassion isn’t normally seen as a critical component of leadership, but it really has everything to do with business and leadership. Compassion begins with curiosity – about others, their motivators, how their world works. Children are naturally curious, but as we grow older, we become so certain we know others and how the world works that our ability to be pleasantly surprised and even delighted diminishes, fades, or even dies.

Effective leaders are in tune with their team, caring about them. Caring then invokes the curiosity, respect, and empathy that makes up compassion. Annie McKee, of the Telios Leadership Institute, defines compassion as having three components:

  • Understanding of, and empathy for, others’ feelings and experiences
  • Caring for others
  • Willingness to act on those feelings of care and empathy

When we are compassionate toward our team, we are building strong relationships that enable us to face the inevitable tough times together with both creativity and resilience. The empathy within compassion enables us to connect with our team and understand what moves them. This helps us get things done and more easily deal with the stress and sacrifices inherent in leadership. And when we consistently act based on a real understanding of others (not our assumptions about them), our relationships grow even stronger. This builds pride, alignment with the vision, and greater productivity.

One way leaders can develop compassion is to coach members of your team. By engaging them in a process of development and growth, you as the leader cannot help but experience compassion for them and renew yourself in the process. When we stop focusing on ourselves, on our loneliness as leaders, on the tremendous amount of work we have to do and pressures we are under, and we start focusing on our team instead, it is amazing how our loneliness diminishes, the amount of work is shouldered by more, and the pressures lessen and/or become more tolerable. This lessens your stress which lessens the stress of the team. And it becomes a positive emotional contagion within the team – positivity becomes prominent, for everyone.

This intentional stopping, focusing on others, and personal change is not easy. Many leaders respond to the pressures of leadership by working harder and doing more of the same. Remember Albert Einstein’s quote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Doing the same thing is like turning up the heat in your pot. The real solution lies in renewal for yourself through compassion for your team. Take a moment this week to stop, look over your team, and become a compassionate leader. Leader, heal thyself!

“I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts our mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life.”  ~ 14th Dalai Lama