Summary: Compassionate Leadership by Paul Axtell
Summary: Compassionate Leadership by Paul Axtell

Summary: Compassionate Leadership by Paul Axtell

Compassionate Principle 1: Perspectives Change Everything, So Choose Empowering Ones

Imagine how work might be if you knew that everyone had your back—that they looked out for you and your reputation. You knew that if people had issues with you, they would come straight to you and not participate in gossip or undermining conversations with others.

More than your own success, you can earn credibility faster by supporting the success of the person sitting right next to you. Just think about the leverage you have when nine people on a ten-person team are worried more about one another’s success than their own.

Now, imagine that everyone who works for you knows that you and their colleagues are on their side.


Compassionate Principle 2: Never Walk Past Anyone, Ever

Good conversation is like a dance—it’s often easier when someone else leads and we follow. Take advantage of each opportunity that comes when someone else starts the conversation. Put the rest of the world on hold. Pay full attention. Don’t interrupt. Let them finish.

Even if now is not the best time for you, stop anyway. If you do this often, your reputation for making time for folks will carry you through moments when you truly do not have time.

Compassionate Principle 3: Trust and Respect Are Fragile but Essential

Be authentic. This is simple. Just be yourself. Say what you think. Mean what you say. Be candid, honest, and respectful. As long as you are sincere and responsible for what you say and how you say it, people will respect you for your openness.

Be less judgmental. Respect people as they are. You have probably met people with whom you feel instantly comfortable and at ease. It is often because of their ability to like and accept you as you are. The quickest and perhaps most reliable way to feel trust with another is to have the experience of being seen and understood for who you really are.


Compassionate Principle 4: People Are Complicated—and Sometimes Difficult

People are complex. Most of us seem to believe we can figure people out—that we can explain why people do the things they do. We can’t. But we can learn to be effective with whatever they bring to the conversation.

People’s lives are complicated. We can think we know a person’s past or current reality. Nope, no way. We do not know what anyone has experienced in their lives nor what they are dealing with from the last twenty-four hours. Not knowing is a good place to start. Trust that people are doing the best they can given their current reality.


Compassionate Principle 5: Appreciation: Always Important, Often Missing

It makes a difference to people’s experience of work when they are acknowledged and appreciated. Everyone wants to belong, be liked, and know they make a difference. Yet many people aren’t sure what we think of them because we don’t tell them often enough.

Don’t wait for someone’s actions to be above and beyond. Sometimes simply showing up deserves recognition. What everyday actions can you acknowledge?


Compassionate Principle 6: Every Conversation Can Be Enhanced

Day in and day out, most people simply don’t think about their conversations. Consider that every conversation can be enhanced—sometimes with more careful listening, sometimes by removing distractions, sometimes by inviting new voices into the conversation. You can add value to each conversation in which you participate and therefore to every person you touch each day.


Compassionate Principle 7: Say the Right Thing at the Right Time

Focus for the next week on how you reply to people’s comments. Slow down, take your time, and be thoughtful. Practice the above responses. Anything new can feel awkward at first, so use your own words if that helps. Then notice what happens.

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. —Lady Dorothy Nevill, English writer


Compassionate Principle 8: Be Great with Complaints

The task is to hear people out, then ask what they want. What is the request at the heart of the issue they’re complaining about? What will resolve it? Here are some examples

Complaint: Nothing happened as a result of the last employee survey. You say you want our input, but it doesn’t seem as if the survey changes anything.

Underlying request: We would like to know the process for working with the results of the survey and get a specific list of actions you intend to take as a result.

If people can clearly state a concern and what they feel will resolve it, you can begin to address the issue. The ability to listen and respond to complaints is a critical skill for supervisors—actually, for anyone!


Compassionate Principle 9: Ask for What You Want, Not What You Think You Can Get

Making specific requests is at the heart of project management and supervising others. Ask a lot of your people. They want to contribute—to add value to the group. Let them know they can negotiate with you about conditions of satisfaction and completion dates and ask for what they need to accept the request.

A request is “I request that you do thing X by time Y.” Including a completion date gives it a better chance of being completed. These are possible options in reply:

  • Decline: I’m going to say no, but let’s keep talking so we figure out how to make this work for you.
  • Accept: I’m willing to do what you ask, and I’ll call if I cannot deliver as promised.
  • Counteroffer: Can we negotiate the date? If so, I’ll commit.
  • Conditional response: I’ll accept on this condition.
  • Promise to respond: Let me look at my schedule, and I’ll get back to you this afternoon.

Establishing a culture that relies on the exchange and completion of specific commitments is part of supervising. To make this process more comfortable and bring everyone on board, consider asking your group to read the Harvard Business Review article “Promise-Based Management: The Essence of Execution,” which outlines the process and explains the benefits: increased collaboration, agility, and engagement. Then ask for their input on implementing a system of promises and requests.


Compassionate Principle 10: If You Give Your Word, Keep It

Imagine what work would be like if this were the most we could ever get from someone: “I’ll be there if I can, but don’t count on it.” Being seen as reliable is an important part of reputation. Effective supervisors model this—and expect their team members to take these actions:

  • Be specific in what they say they will do.
  • Include a completion date.
  • Call and renegotiate when a commitment is in jeopardy.
  • Provide updates on progress if asked.
  • Keep a list of everything they have promised.
  • Offer no excuses for nonperformance.