Servant Leadership – Compassion and Empathy
The concept of good leadership is often mistaken to mean commanding presence, quick decision making, and a hard to please demeanor demanding the most from one’s workers. In recent years, that concept has been turned on its head and I want to take some time this morning to discuss what “Servant Leadership” means to me. This post will focus on the first step in the journey to become a Servant Leader with others planned for follow up.
It all begins with compassion — “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others” (Google). This is the ability to feel for others, and can eventually grow into empathy, which is a step further to understanding the perspective of others. When someone can understand the thoughts and feelings of the other, they are not only more effective leaders, followers, and coworkers but can build a deeper lasting personal connection with those people. This connection drives productivity, symbiotic work environments, and happiness. People enjoy working with people that they like and have this type of deeper connection with.
The ability to empathize has been a skill that took deliberate development for me, and it was developed through mindful meditation practice. Through the act of quieting the constant narrative voice in my own head, I was made aware of the thoughts and feelings of others at a deeper level than before. As a young man, I had very specific and intense philosophies about different aspects of life. I could not understand why others did not feel the same way I did about these things, but over time as I encountered different opinions and different perspectives I started to see how other people could think differently, but still didn’t appreciate those differences. In the Spring of 2015 to deal with overwhelming anxiety and stress, I decided to look into meditation and mindfulness practice.
I will write another post on what mindfulness means to me, but in short ‘the ability to acknowledge and not obsess or focus on the negative thoughts that pass through each of our minds on an hourly or daily basis’ is a good starting point. Essentially, I learned to be able to find acceptance in situations I couldn’t control. In that practice of quieting my own mind, I found I was able to appreciate and even feel the perspective of others at a deeper level. Not only did this give me a better understanding of how they felt and why they acted the way they did, but I found it made me a stronger leader. It allowed me to understand and speak to the thoughts and desires of others. It allowed me to compromise and build consensus by understanding why they felt the way they did.
More to come on each of these topics, but I hope this gives everyone some interesting things to ponder:
- What is your leadership style? Are you hard to please? Do you work hard for your employees, or expect them to work hard for you?
- How deeply do you understand the people you work or live with? What motivates them? What are their personal or career goals?