Chain Reaction Foundation

Effective Leadership: Focusing on Compassion over Compliance

by Margaret Bell | November 19, 2018

Leadership is - and has always been - about finding the balance between continuity and change. As leaders, across all spheres, it is valuable to recognise what is working, and what needs to be altered to achieve the right outcomes for all. Never is this more true than when dealing with people.

We've already discussed dissonant and resonant leadership, and so we already understand that change, in human terms, is not about moulding someone into what we want them to be, but is instead about inspiring and nurturing personal evolution and growth. This is the difference between an authoritarian and a caring, empathetic style of leadership.

But how do we inspire and nurture this change? How do we effectively help someone to be the best they can be, for themselves, for their team, and for society as a whole?

To recognise this, we can take a look at the differences between compassion and compliance, and the roles which these concepts play in effective leadership. Organisational theorist and university professor Richard Boyzatis, along with Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, discussed this in a recent article for Leaderonomics. They defined these terms, and illustrated the differing effects which each has when deployed in leadership.

Focusing on compliance, according to the article's authors, means effecting change from a negative standpoint - i.e. looking to 'fix' or to 'put right' the faults of another. To take an example from the world of business, perhaps a member of your team is a competent and diligent worker, but finds it hard to express their ideas within a group. You raise this, and work advise them to increase their self-confidence and to assert themselves more.

Focusing on compassion, on the other hand, means understanding someone's dreams, desires, and own view of themselves, and using this to nurture personal change and growth. To take the same example, you might begin to work with the person and gain insight into what they want for themselves and for their future, taking steps together to make this desired future a reality - to bring about the Ideal Self, thus encouraging self-esteem and more assertiveness.

This idea of the Ideal Self is critical to the difference between a compliant and a compassionate focus. How would you feel if someone suddenly began to pull you up on your failings and your weaknesses and especially in front of others? It is likely that you would get defensive, and would surely feel personally attacked. Any changes that come about via this focus are not steps towards an Ideal Self, but rather the 'Ought Self' - the self you need to be in order to comply with expectations of others.

Working compassionately towards a mutually agreed ideal is a far more positive experience for all parties, and will reap serious rewards for everyone involved, both on an individual level and on a far broader social scale.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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