THREE RESEARCH-BACKED REASONS THAT COMPASSION COUNTS
Monica C. Worline
When we were first studying compassion at work, our colleague Peter Frost published a paper entitled Why Compassion Counts. It was the first in its field to make a case for the study of compassion in business. “We need theory and research that improve our ability to connect with our fellow beings,” Peter wrote. “As students of organizations and organizational life, if we don’t build notions of empathy, of concern for the inhabitants of the world we study, who will?”
Almost 20 years have passed. If Peter were alive today, we think he’d be thrilled with the response to his call to action. Researchers and scholars around the globe are exploring, theorizing, and building more elaborate understandings of compassion at work. We also think he’d love our book Awakening Compassion at Work, which pulls together much of what we’ve learned in a form that makes it easy to put to practical use in all kinds of organizations.
There’s a lot going on in the science of compassion. We wanted to highlight three research findings you might not have heard, but they offer new insights into why compassion counts.
WITNESSING COMPASSION AT WORK CHANGES HOW WE SEE OUR ORGANIZATIONS
Sometimes it’s easy to focus exclusively on the recipients of compassion as its beneficiaries. We can easily grasp that people receiving donated meals are probably benefiting from compassion. What we don’t grasp as easily is that those of us who witness compassion also gain from it.
In one of our studies, we found that just seeing a group of people organize compassion for colleagues at work generated the same effects as those who participated in offering or receiving the compassion. Witnessing compassion changes how much of ourselves we are willing to bring to work, how we see our coworkers, and how we see our organizations. Sociologist and theologian Robert Wuthnow echoes this point when he writes that “compassion enriches us and ennobles us, even those of us who are neither the care givers nor the recipients, because it holds forth a vision of what good society can be.”
COMPASSION FOR COWORKERS IS ESSENTIAL TO SERVICE & HOSPITALITY
The hospitality industry is growing. Hotels, restaurants, resort destinations, and experience providers make up more of our economy. But service quality and hospitality are also essential in health care, education, social services, and community-based organizations where helping people feel welcome and included is a key to successful outcomes.
Compassion researchers Pablo Zoghbi-Manrique-de-Lara and Ria Guerra-Baez show that employees in the hospitality industry are likely to be especially tuned into one another’s suffering. They are arranged in close work teams and they perform highly interdependent tasks. These teams require one another’s full support in order to create the desired customer experience, including detecting and responding to suffering. Coworkers compassionate support for one another is essential to creating excellence in service and hospitality.
COMPASSION STRENGTHENS AN ORGANIZATION’S RESILIENCE
In a study of 18 organizations that had engaged in downsizing, across 16 different industries, the extent to which employees characterized their organizations as compassionate correlated with more resilient profitability. The more compassionate organizations also kept more customers through the downturn. Other studies have found the same link between compassion and the ability to engage and retain clients. When people feel cared for as part of their work culture, they are more able to adapt and bounce back and that helps their organizations adapt and bounce back as well.
Monica Worline, PhD, is CEO of EnlivenWork. She is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work.
Jane Dutton, PhD, is the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology and cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. She has written over 100 articles and published 13 books, including Energize Your Workplace and How to Be a Positive Leader. She is also a founding member of the CompassionLab.
Let me tell you, I was mezmarrized by her comments. In her many meaningful phrases she made one that hit me like a ton of bricks. She said, “If you want others to tell you the truth, you need to tell them the truth.” Think about that. What wold the world be like if we all put this in practice.
Powerful leadership is needed in America today and the world to deal effectively with a broad range of challenges. History, however, is full of examples of leaders that lacked character to sustain trust and credibility with the public. Good character and integrity, basically telling the truth, are the solid foundation of great leadership. Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. Character is a rare commodity now adays. Our culture has produced few enduring leaders, few people with leadership integrity.
Great leaders must demonstrate the right virtues to lead effectively. Nicolle said, “we must all take responsibility for our power.” We must demonstrate honesty, humility, authenticity, credibility, courage and accountability. Thanks Nicolle for reminding me that the most important leadership virtue is integrity.
It all started a couple of weeks ago with a comment made during the Friday night dinner of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) when Executive Chef Nick Townsend of Ulen Country Club made the comment that we must lead like Mr Potato Head® in that we have to change and adapt just like the pieces of a Mr. Potato Head® toy. This really resonated with me and made me think about the difference between this adaptation and compromising core values. There is a difference – adaptive leadership is not about compromising core values, but about adapting to circumstances, thus enabling your core values.
Of course all FLA members knew the instant they heard the Mr. Potato Head® reference that it would become a through line for a future FLA leadership retreat – and, it did! Little did I know just how powerful this toy would be to our journey of leadership journey. I decided to use a toy through line for our retreat this weekend. We used Mr. Potato Head®, Play-Doh®, and Legos®. These were incredible examples to use for leadership reflection, training, and professional growth. As you know, I use a non-traditional form of agendas for the weekend and have attached the agenda that reflects the learning arc for the weekend as the featured image for this post.
- Legos – Relationships
- Slinky Dog – Vision
- Play Doh – Mentoring
- Yo-Yo – Creativity
- Mr. Potato Head – Communication
- Rubik’s Cube – Ethics
- Rocking Horse – Efficiency
- Lite Brite – Illuminate to Communicate
- Weebles – Endurance
- Green Army Men – Strategy
You will find in my next two posts that the leadership lessons are not limited to what are listed above. In fact there will be a list of graphically recorded lessons about Legos® and Mr. Potato Head® in my next two posts. People love following leaders whose hearts are fueled by passion. Interestingly, I believe that passion in leaders can be fueled by toys. Just think of the feelings and memories that are spurred when thinking of toys that you had in your toy box as a child. So, here is my challenge question: What was your favorite toy growing up and what leadership skills did you learn from it?
A leader’s impact, career, reputation and legacy are all determined by the decisions he or she makes. Up and coming leaders often ask me: How do you make better decisions?
Have you given much thought to this question? My hunch is that you and I may not think enough about how we make decisions. If you’ve been leading long, it can become instinctive or reflexive. You just do it – no thought required. Some would label this unconsciously competent. Isn’t that what you want? To be able to respond instinctively without thinking.
You might think the same thing about world-class athletes. Surely, they don’t think about what they do – as Nike advocates, they Just Do it! Right? Wrong. The very best athletes are the best students in their chosen field. Tiger and Phil from the world of golf, Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady from the NFL, Lebron James from the NBA, and the list could go on and on. Athletes at the top of their game are students of HOW they do what they do. They watch the video over and over again to sharpen their skills.
When it comes to decision-making, some thoughtful time invested can have the same effect. We can get better at the most critical activity we engage in as a leader. The athlete that doesn’t refine his or her skills is called an amateur. The leader that doesn’t grow in their decision-making abilities is called average.
How can we get better at making decisions? Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your thinking.
Learn from the past – Have you ever done an analysis of your decision-making? How’s your batting average? How often do you get it right? How often do you miss the mark? What patterns exist? Do you make better decisions when others are involved? How often do you follow your instincts – your gut? What have others done? What has worked in the past?
Wait until it matters – Don’t make decision early. Things change. Find out when a decision must be made. Make it then. One of the first questions I ask when confronted with a major decision: When is the latest we can reach a decision? Use the time before the due date to think, consider alternatives and get input from others. You miss some, or all of this, if you decide prematurely. Also, if you decide early, there’s more time for second-guessing. The real challenge in most cases is not the decision anyway – the REAL CHALLENGE is execution. Decide and then move quickly to action.
Value principles over rules – Principles are universally applicable and require judgment. Rules remove the need for judgment and often yield a sub-optimum outcome. A short list of principles to aide in decision-making can be extremely helpful. Here are a few examples to consider as you create your own short list:
The closer the decision-maker is to the actual work the better.
The level to which a decision rises in the organization should always be in proportion to its relative impact, risk or cost.
Clarity on decision-making roles increases the chances of a good outcome and a timely decision.
Different decisions warrant different approaches – one size does not fit all (e.g., Consultative, Consensus, Command, Delegated).
If you want to improve your golf game or your serve in tennis, you focus on it. You can do the same with your decision-making. You get to decide.
Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.