Compassionate Leadership

In her Forbes article – Compassionate Business Leadership Creates a Competitive Edge – Naz Beheshti writes that “In today’s frantic business world, one marked by limited attention spans and the constant threat of disruptive change, efficiency is seen as a cardinal virtue. It is easy to dismiss getting bogged down in the messy world of emotions as a distraction.” And yet, she adds, “compassion need not slow you down. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.”

In this fourth of our five-part “Leadership Unplugged” series to listen in on conversations between Worldwide ERC® President and CEO Peggy Smith, SCRP, SGMS-T and several talent mobility industry professionals, we hear some examples of the practical applications of compassionate and empathetic business leadership at work.

For Indeed’s Global Mobility Manager, Alex De La Garza, GMS, the analogy of putting one’s own oxygen mask on first before helping others proved a good one for her approach to being the best, most empathetic leader she can be. She acknowledges that the demands of the current business environment are frenetic and aims to be a calming influence for her team. But to do that, she shared with Peggy, she has to be able to recognize when her own “oxygen levels” – and energy – are depleted, and when it’s time to take a break and restore them. She works to instill that same self-awareness in her team, and empowers them to follow her example, to ensure they stay focused on the ultimate end goal of compassion and empathy: “reminding ourselves that we’re here to help people, and making sure we understand the why of what we’re doing.”


A recent personal uprooting gave Cornerstone Relocation Group’s Vice president, Global Business Development, Janet E. Olkowski, SCRP, SGMS-T a unique opportunity to apply compassion and empathy to her leadership of staff, transferees and their families. “A big storm and tree damage to my house displaced us for a few months, and forced me to live in temporary accommodations for a period of time. Fortunately, I have some great partners in the temporary living space. I can empathize with what our assignees are going through,” she shared with Peggy, adding that she now sees the value of a single point of contact in a whole new way, having had the experience of working with multiple different people handling all aspects of what was already a stressful life scenario to begin with.


When it comes to leading and managing teams, compassion and empathy often go hand-in-hand, and when put to effective use, can reap multiple benefits, from greater engagement and retention levels to creativity and productivity boosts. In his Fast Company article - 5 Reasons Why Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill – emotional intelligence author and speaker Harvey Deutschendorf argues that, “in terms of employee engagement, it is known that when leadership demonstrates to employees that they care, the reciprocity reaction kicks in and they want to put in more effort.”

Peggy’s conversation with Elena Anderson-de Lay, GMS-T, Global Workforce Mobility Consultant with
At Ease Solutions, LLC, provides a great example of how these skills are directly relevant for talent mobility professionals. In response to Peggy’s question about what’s in her inbox right now, Elena shared that there are “a lot of questions about how to be more inclusive in the workforce.” The benefits of diverse, inclusive teams have been widely documented, and talent mobility professionals can be integral in facilitating their development and growth. An important first step, notes Elena, is to recognize and be honest about the fact that we all have unconscious bias. That’s where compassion and empathy come in. “Having those difficult conversations in a constructive way – where each individual is willing to take a step back and de-program ourselves” she feels, is the best starting point. “We have to address (bias) on an individual and collective basis. It can hinder us not only in recruiting the best talent, but in being innovative, too.”


From a leadership perspective, Elena shared with Peggy how essential it is to earn the buy-in of creating an inclusive environment from the entire organization. One of the ways to do that is to create opportunities that allow people to comfortably and openly share their stories, which begins to show the layers of humanity that are connecting us in the workplace. “Leaders have to create the business case and be champions for it,” she notes, adding that “none of us are perfect, and we need to be honest and self-aware about our own bias.”

Related: In India, Diversity and Inclusion Paints a Picture of Opportunity and Diversity Matters from the February 2019 issue of Mobility magazine.

The importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and building diversity of thought was also echoed as a key leadership skill by Cathleen Podell, SCRP, Regional Vice President with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. When Peggy asked her what advice she gives her own daughter to prepare her for the workforce, Cathleen shared that she tells her that “it’s really important to do something you’re excited and passionate about, it brings out your best qualities and skills, and you get really energized.” She encourages her to try new things to cultivate her passion and creativity.

“As leaders, we're 'conductors of our talent.'”

Peggy inquired about how she brings that diversity of thought into the workplace, too. Cathleen likes to think of leaders as “conductors of our talent. We can identify what our folks do well…and help them plug into the things that they’re good at and they like to do,” noting that creating collaborative opportunities to expose their talents helps add dimension to their career and build their skillsets.

For Beth Archibald, SCRP, SGMS, Founder of Archibald Relocation & Real Estate Services, a great example of compassionate leadership comes through her efforts to successfully bring her son Rob’s considerable talents into the business, while simultaneously recognizing those who have been with her since the beginning. She shared that working with the professional guidance of a life coach has guided them along that journey. When Peggy asked what inspired her to make that decision, she noted that “a lot of family businesses bring in relatives, (possibly prompting) the rest of the team to think they are just ‘handing the business over.’ We wanted to come in and honor and respect the talent that has been there and working so hard all along…this isn’t just a given, he’s earning his way and bringing in some new ideas, but also listening and talking to the team, making sure they know how much they matter.”


What’s the bottom line? Compassionate leadership helps break down barriers, encouraging greater connectivity and understanding of a whole person, not just an individual’s specific role in the office. That understanding can translate into more inclusion of voices and perspectives, greater sharing, and stronger teamwork. Teams who feel comfortable collaborating openly, with trust, tend to take more risks and produce more innovative results.

Come collaborate openly with your fellow peers and develop your business and leadership skills at one of our next in-person or digital events – see current opportunities.

Coming Next—Leadership Unplugged Part V: The Power of Listening

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