I recently added Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman of LINKEDIN to my list of Must Follow Leaders, after listening to him in a video that came up in my news feed. Weiner’s leadership has brought LINKEDIN many accomplishments during the last eleven years that he has been with the company, including growing the membership from 33 million to 690 million and increasing revenues from US$78M to more than US$7.9B. In 2019, Glassdoor ranked him as one of the “Best CEOs” with a 97% employee approval rating – his fifth year being ranked in the top of the Glassdoor survey listing.
When the interviewer said that “compassionate leadership” is a practice that Weiner is known for, and asked him to share more about this philosophy, the first thing I thought was “uh oh, that sounds like the sort of thing that many CEOs roll their eyes at because it is too “touchy-feely”. But then I also thought, “hmmm, a highly successful and highly rated executive in a global company who says leading compassionately is the way to go – how intriguing!”
It turns out that his explanation made perfect sense and that this is a philosophy that some leaders I know already believe in. Now, more than ever in a time of disruption to norms and during the process of adapting to a myriad of changes, leading compassionately can serve all leaders.
Empathy Isn't Enough
According to Jeff Weiner, Compassionate Leadership not only requires you to put yourself in the shoes of those you lead, by understanding and empathizing with their situation, it also compels you to care enough to do something about it. The latter requires tremendous courage, especially when the situation isn’t favourable. For example, when it comes on to performance management, do you find it hard to have difficult conversations with your team members? Are you one of those leaders who is unhappy with the performance of a team member and may have even expressed this to others, but when the time comes to conduct that individual’s performance appraisal review, you betray how you truly feel by offering glowing comments and generous scores? Or, on the other hand, you may be comfortable with having difficult conversations regarding low performance, but you will only do so formally at time of the appraisal review, all the while observing the team member struggle in his role, because your position is that it is his sole responsibility to overcome challenges.
Understand Then Seek to Help
As a leader, the most compassionate thing you can do for a team member who is struggling with her performance is to connect early in the process and devise a joint plan to support improvement. However, compassionate leadership is not practised at the expense of accountability; being a compassionate leader does mean you must care enough to ensure that your direct reports have the greatest opportunity to succeed at the goals that have been agreed upon. Leaders of this calibre also understand how important it is to be open and available to listen to tough messages from their team members. They often possess the willingness to explore gaps in their understanding and embody the courage and fluidity to have their own observations and interpretations challenged, in conjunction with seeking to solve for the team’s success.
Practise Care That is Timely & Constructive
Compassionate leaders are open, honest, timely and most of all, constructive – in their assessments and in their feedback. By caring enough to gain insights and perspectives on why their team members are performing the way they do, they create space for meaningful problem solving and powerful group collaboration. Where progress is not eventual or possible, team members can accept and respect that their leader’s efforts were tangible and sincere.
There is no wonder why Jeff Weiner has been as successful as he has been. He, like many other next-level leaders, understands that leading with compassion is anything but touchy-feely. It is in fact a competitive advantage that can affect every aspect of your business, but it involves a great deal of intention and commitment. In the end, it is well worth it, but do you really have to courage to practice compassionate leadership?