A number of years ago, Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ingka Group/IKEA, was asked to take over management of IKEA China, a business that required significant change to be successful and sustainable. He would have to close offices and support many employees in finding new employment. Before accepting such a difficult restructure, he asked himself an important question: “Do I have the courage and stamina to do this?”
As a leader, how do you do the hard things that come with taking on the responsibility of leadership, while remaining a good human being? This is an eternal conundrum for all leaders. Most of us think we have to make a difficult, binary choice between being a good person or being a tough, effective leader. This is a false dichotomy. Being human and making hard leadership decisions are not mutually exclusive. In truth, doing hard things is often the most human thing to do. There are two key ingredients: wisdom and compassion.
In a previous HBR article, we introduced the concept of wise compassionate leadership, with wisdom defined as a deep understanding of what motivates people and the courage to be transparent and to do what needs to be done, even when it is uncomfortable; and compassion as the quality of showing genuine care and concern for others, with a positive intention to support and help.
Our study of leaders and employees from more than 5,000 companies in nearly 100 countries has shown the extraordinary power of wisdom and compassion. Employees with leaders who show either wisdom or compassion have net positive experiences across the board. They enjoy and are engaged with their jobs and are less likely to burn out. But, when a leader demonstrates both wisdom and compassion, the impact on employee wellness and productivity is striking. Job satisfaction is 86% higher for an employee who works for a wise and compassionate leader than an employee who does not. In this case, the sum is much greater than the parts.
Not surprisingly, however, actually leading with this combination of wisdom and compassion isn’t easy. It takes learning and practice. The first big step is to unlearn what you might think “leadership” means and to relearn what it means to be human.
Very simply put, management is about managing others, about exercising executive control over people. Leadership, on the other hand, is about seeing and hearing others, setting a direction, and then letting go of controlling what happens next.
“If you start to think about what our role is as leaders, it’s actually quite simple,” Chris Toth, CEO of the medical device company Varian, told us. “Our role is not to be the ones who make the decision or to be the smartest person in the room. In fact, it can be exceptionally dangerous if the decision-making always goes to the leader. Instead, you must create a culture of compassion and empowerment that is accepting of diverse perspectives. This unlocks people’s creativity, productivity and happiness.”
To foster this type of leadership approach, it is critical to acknowledge that we are not our job titles, we are human beings, wanting to connect on a human level with other people. Here are four ways to bring more humanity to your leadership. READ MORE
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