Tips for Becoming a Magnetic, Compassionate Boss

Yesterday’s Advisor featured a Q&A between Stanford News Service and Emma Seppälä, associate director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, regarding compassion as a managerial strategy. Today we wrap up this Q&A with Seppälä’s tips on being an effective manager through a compassionate mindset.

Q: What types of bosses are employees more drawn to?

A: The data suggest that employees are drawn to managers that are kind and that they can trust. They also value a manager … they can look up to for his or her human qualities and values.

After all, employees spend a large portion of their life at work—it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they prefer to feel happy there. Given data from a Gallup survey showing that 70% of workers are currently disengaged at work—a fact that drastically affects worker productivity—it should be every manager’s prerogative to ensure a happy workplace culture.

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I’m not suggesting that managers not express dissatisfaction or point out errors. However, they should be skillful and kind in how they choose to communicate with underperforming employees. They can choose to explore the reasons behind what happened and engage the employee in a conversation on how to prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.

Some people may argue that they simply don’t have the time for this type of leadership style. Others will argue that their job is too fast-paced and stressful to be able to focus on compassionate communication with employees.

James Doty, the director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and a neurosurgeon, points out that these types of arguments are erroneous. Brain surgery is arguably one of the most stressful jobs. Mistakes can lead to serious consequences. Yet Doty makes time to address errors with compassion:

“It’s not that I let them off the hook, but by choosing a compassionate response when they know they have made a mistake, they are not destroyed. They have learned a lesson, and they want to improve for you because you’ve been kind to them.”

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The following three steps can help cultivate a compassionate mindset:

  1. Be mindful. Take a moment to gather yourself and your thoughts. You don’t want to speak rashly or act out of emotion. If you are upset, wait until your feelings diminish so that you can approach your employee from a calmer place. Practicing meditation or breathing exercises can help boost your ability to regulate your emotions and act from a mindful place.

  2. Learn to empathize. Perspective-taking is key. Try to understand the situation from your employee’s view. Understand your employee’s perspective—perhaps they are nervous, or have family problems that are taking a toll, or feeling overwhelmed. Once you can really take on that perspective and understand where they are coming from, you are less likely to want to take a harsh approach with your employee.

  3. Forgive. While harboring anger actually increases your heart rate and blood pressure and is linked to cardiovascular disease, forgiveness lowers your blood pressure. Research shows that the ability to forgive not only helps your employee, it significantly boosts your own health and psychological well-being as well.