How to Unleash the Leadership Power of Grit and Grace

In an ever more stressful world, compassionate leadership is badly needed. However, how do leaders balance compassion with strength and professionalism? In this podcast, I share some helpful strategies and details of my online compassionate leadership coaching and mentoring programme for women leaders. 

Hi, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor and in today’s podcast, I’m talking about how to balance strong leadership with compassionate leadership. 

Every workplace, no matter the size, needs strong, decisive leadership. However, amid the uncertainty, challenges, and stressors that every one of us is facing, compassionate leadership is essential. 

Today’s leaders must demonstrate empathy, strive for meaningful connection, and lead with compassion, all while remaining strong and resolute. 

In my view, it’s a myth that compassionate leaders aren’t strong leaders. In fact, it takes a lot of strength to make tough decisions and give difficult feedback in a compassionate way.

So, let’s start by looking at what compassionate leadership is. 

Compassionate leadership is not just about having empathy for people, it’s about being willing to take action to support people and deal with problems head-on. 

It’s about taking care of yourself and your team and being present, honest, and direct when you’re dealing with issues. 

Compassionate leadership has been shown to increase trust, strengthen loyalty, and improve collaboration in workplaces. 

In these times of huge change, uncertainty, and multiple crises, people can feel stressed, burnt out, and vulnerable. If you show your team members that you care and they have your support, it can be hugely transformative. 

As I mentioned, however, having empathy alone is not enough. While empathy can help you connect with your team members, having compassion for them is different and more powerful.

That’s because while empathy is sharing in someone’s suffering and feeling what they are feeling, compassion moves you to take action to alleviate that suffering. 

If you’re a caring person, it’s difficult to avoid taking on someone else’s emotions and distress, which can lead to feelings of helplessness and burnout. 

The compassionate approach offers something different. 

Rather than depleting you, it empowers you and strengthens your connection you with your team member in a better way; a way where you can solve problems by taking intentional action. 

Not that this means a compassionate leader should try to solve every issue. Sometimes, all someone needs you to do is to just be there. 

When a team member comes to you, they often just want to feel listened to and understood. So listen and ask questions to understand, not to judge or fix something. 

Now, there will be times when it is challenging to be compassionate. Difficult conversations spring to mind here. When you are under pressure and emotions are running high, you may feel you lack the emotional bandwidth to even manage yourself, never mind someone else. 

This is where it is helpful to have some strategies to draw on. The next time you need to have a difficult conversation, follow these tips for balancing a compassionate approach with strong, professional leadership.

The first tip is to make sure you are present before you begin the conversation. Ground yourself by taking some deep breaths or paying attention to how you can feel the ground beneath your feet. Never rush into a difficult conversation. Always give yourself a few minutes, so you feel balanced. 

The next tip is to abandon the need for comfort. By their nature, difficult conversations will take you out of your comfort zone and that’s a good thing. Getting the best outcome for everyone involved requires courage. So my advice is balance candour with care. 

Candour is not brutal honesty; it’s honesty that’s delivered with respect and consideration for someone else. 

Another important thing to remember is not to sugarcoat things or beat around the bush. Yes, you want to be compassionate and empathetic, however it is far better to be direct. Get to the point and deliver the difficult message early on. 

Whoever you are speaking to knows that something is coming, and they have probably already considered that it may be hard for them to hear. 

By not getting to the point, you can make their (and your) anxiety and feelings of dread worse. 

Deliver the difficult message early and this allows the other person to get over the initial shock and start processing what you have said as the conversation goes on. 

If you have to deliver difficult news, start the conversation with a statement like “This is not the conversation I had imagined we would be having. However, I need to tell you that…”

End with a recognition that the news was difficult by saying something like “I know that this is not what you would have hoped for…”

Be clear, transparent, and compassionate throughout. While you may not be able to give the person all the answers they want, tell them as much as you can, because then at least people know where they stand and they can start thinking about what their next steps might be. 

This approach creates a greater sense of trust and psychological safety, and increases the chances of a better outcome following the conversation. 

The thing to remember about compassionate leadership is that it’s not about being liked or being popular. It’s about being that leader who when people talk about you, they say:

“They’re a brilliant boss; they’re open, honest, and they get things done. Oh, and they really supported me when I was struggling. I won’t forget that, and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”

I want to end this podcast with a cheeky plug for one of my coaching and mentoring programmes for leaders who want to lead with impact and compassion. 

Balancing compassion and authority can be a difficult balancing act. 

Maybe you long to be a more compassionate leader but the pressure to perform and be productive is eating away at your capacity for compassion, or you don’t want to be seen as weak or as a ‘soft touch’ who people take advantage of.

My three-month online coaching and mentoring programme, ‘Leading with Heart—Coaching and Mentoring for Compassionate and Impactful Leaders, ’ will give you the support you need to lead in a way that aligns with your values and aspirations. 

Learning to lead with compassion and strength creates an environment where:

Tough performance management and difficult conversations feel so much easier.

Everyone is pulling in the same direction and going the extra mile because they know you care. 

Stronger team relationships develop thanks to the culture of openness and empathy you’ve created. 

Are you ready to set the tone for your team and lead on your terms?

You can find the online programme under Leadership Coaching and Mentoring for Office-Based Women Leaders in the ‘work with me’ section of my website here 

We’ve come to the end of this episode of The People Mentor podcast, and I hope you feel more confident that you lead with strength and compassion – there’s no need to compromise!

See you next time.

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