Self-Compassion is What Makes Good Leaders the Greatest

Smart people tend to want to prove themselves by accomplishing a lot within a short period of time.

In holding our feet to the fire, we also tend to be extremely hard on ourselves. For many, there seems to be a deeply rooted belief that in order to be a highly successful leader, continual stress comes with the territory.

We tell ourselves this is how we “get good.” And, admittedly, it may have worked for a time. But it becomes a cycle of never enough and of never-ending stress.

And it’s not a long-term strategy. How could it be? Stress, fatigue, burn-out and plain ole discouragement from our stinkin’ thinkin’ would take its toll on anyone – at best, slowing us down and, at worst, setting the stage for longer-term unproductive struggles in our work and personal relationships.

If left unchecked, it negatively affects performance in the workplace. And it doesn’t have to be like this.

Self-Compassion is the Foundation of Leadership

“Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours…
We’re told that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough.”

-Kristin Neff

Our workplaces have become full of discontentment. According to Gregory Stebbins and co-author Marcos Cajina, writing in the Huffington Post, a 2013 Gallup poll revealed shocking results:

-87% of capable employees reported being disengaged

We need to let go of the old ways of leadership. And that means, say the authors, opening the door to self-compassion.

Compassion Makes Leaders More Resilient

Many professionals are experiencing unprecedented record stress levels, brought on not only by the global pandemic and its far-reaching effects, but the political unrest in the world as well.

We’re a world hungry for compassion.

Writing in Forbes, Rebecca Zucker relates her conversation with Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and also The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, noting how vital compassion is during these tumultuous times. While offering it to others, we must also offer it to ourselves. Zucker notes:

“…self-compassion is a muscle we can build that makes us more resilient over time and allows us to be more optimistic.”

According to Neff, self-compassion consists of three components:

  1. Become mindful and aware of your suffering and acknowledge it.
  2. Be kind to yourself, showing the same care and concern you would give to a child who is suffering.
  3. Realize and remind yourself that you are part of this large community that is humanity. Oftentimes, we feel as if we are suffering all alone when, in fact, we are one among many.

Neff states that when we are aware of our suffering, it is then that we should do something kind for ourselves, like taking a day off, indulging in a nap, or even a long walk. And it’s also good to have support from others.

There is often a cultural roadblock to self-compassion, that somehow being soft with ourselves means we won’t get ahead or be successful. But, it’s actually the opposite that is most often true:

Self-encouragement is shown to be a more effective motivator than self-criticism.

There are gender barriers as well to self-compassion. Women, socialized to care for others, often believe self-compassion is a selfish act, while men can view it as a display of weakness.

Self-Esteem or Self-Compassion?

There is a difference. Writing in Harvard Business Review, Serena Chen notes self-esteem generally involves judging one’s self in comparison to others. Self-compassion has no judgement involved:  it creates a sense of wellbeing.

Kristin Neff digs deeper. Self-esteem is how we judge ourselves positively, how much we value ourselves in comparison with those around us. Self-compassion, meanwhile, is how we relate to ourselves. it shows the interconnection with other humans, instead of a separateness.

As a result, Neff states, with self-compassion:

  • We don’t have to feel better than other people to feel good about ourselves.
  • We don’t need others to feel good about ourselves.

Self-compassion shares many of the same benefits as self-esteem, and though it may not seem so at first, helps us to ultimately focus on a “we” rather than a “me” mentality – as we begin to sense our interconnectedness with all others.

Self-Compassion: A Solid Foundation for Authentic Leaders

self-compassionCarol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University, states self-compassion supports what she calls a ‘growth mindset.”

Those with a growth mindset:

-view personal abilities and traits as changeable, see potential for growth and are more likely to maintain positive and optimistic outlooks.

Those with a fixed mindset:

see personal abilities, including their own, as set in stone, believing people will be the same five years from now.

In her research, those who were encouraged to have compassion for themselves in situations where they felt they did wrong reported being more motivated to make amends and not repeat the same error.

Most importantly for leaders, a self-compassion mindset spreads to others. Having compassion for oneself in turn encourages compassion for others. All the characteristics of compassion, like non-judgement and genuine caring, are absorbed by others.

Chen cites research by Jia Wei Zhang that shows that leaders who take on a growth mindset – who believe that change IS possible – tend to notice changes in employees’ performances and intervene to give feedback for improvement.

Employees, in turn, can discern this mindset in their leader, and as a result, are more likely to adopt growth mindsets, too. Truly, this is leading by setting a good example.

Cultivating Self-Compassion is a Skill

Like anything, developing self-compassion it is a skill that needs practice. Chen identifies a psychologist’s checklist for self-compassion: Ask:

Am I:

  1. being kind to myself?
  2. aware that everyone has shortcomings and makes mistakes?
  3. keeping uncomfortable feelings in their proper light?

An easier method, Chen also advises, could be: write yourself a letter in the third person – write to yourself as if you were writing to a dear friend in need of compassion. What would you say to him/her?  What tone would you use?  How would you like this dear friend to see him/herself?

“A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.” M.D. Arnold

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To Become a More Intentional Leader, Start Journaling

The achievements of John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Ernest Hemingway, and Marie Curie are well-known to many of us.

As diverse as their careers may be, they shared a common practice: journaling.

While writing down their thoughts, visions, and desires, they chronicled their journey through life. Today, we can read through their written history and glean details into their personal selves.

Perhaps they knew long before we did the value of journaling.  On the surface level, it can be a peaceful reprieve from our frantic 24-7 workdays. And, it is also so much more.

“Journaling is paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out.”

-Lee Wise

Journaling: A Healing Ointment for a Hurting World

Although many of us have good intentions to improve ourselves, we oftentimes find excuses that keep us from our self-improvement goals.

Whether it’s taking time to affirm each day, practicing self-care, or even journaling to self-reflect, we make the usual excuses:

  • We’re too busy.
  • Interruptions get in the way.
  • It’s a waste of our time.

We’re only kidding ourselves.

Henna Inam confesses in Transformational Leadership that she too, found many other things she’d rather do than journal – until she read that many successful people, including US Presidents, kept a daily journal.

She admits that got her attention. Inam recommends journaling to all her executive coaching clients. By putting thoughts down on paper, Inam says journaling relieves the mind of mental burdens that left unchecked, can spiral into negative thoughts.

She notes its transformative benefits: we get greater insights into ourselves and others – and it can improve our health.

Inam offers up 10 suggestions for journaling. Here are some key ones:

  1. Purchase an attractive journal. It becomes a central place for our thoughts. No scrap papers.
  2. If you get stuck, write down what you’re grateful for and why.
  3. List out goals and keep track of them.
  4. During difficult days, write down insights into any emotion that comes up.

Deepok Chopra and Kabir Sehgal writing in Make It, noted four benefits journaling can have in our lives:

  1. Leads us to ‘see’ our thoughts and feelings to make better sense of them
  2. Assists in recovering from stressful events
  3. Enhances our problem-solving skills
  4. Helps us to learn deeper lessons more quickly so we can move on to brighter situations.

Experts say that taking just 15 minutes each day, three to five times a week, can have a significant impact on our physical and mental well-being.

Journaling is a gift to ourselves, part of an overall self-care routine.

We can discover more about how we’re really feeling, and what we want to accomplish – both of which are key first steps to greater self-awareness, the first step in leadership. Self-discovery is a powerful tool, and journaling assists us in our efforts as we review daily encounters:

  • Are we reacting – or responding – to triggers?
  • How do we feel about ourselves when faced with stressful conditions?
  • Next year at this time, where do we see ourselves?

How Journaling Can Help Enhance Our Leadership Capability

Great leaders take time to reflect, writes Nancy Adler in Harvard Business Review.

And what better way to gain insight into one’s self and others than to journal, even for just a few minutes each day?

It’s a quiet time to hear what we have to say to ourselves. Adler suggests asking:

  • How am I feeling about my own leadership?
  • How do I feel right now?
  • What contributed to my happiness this week?

Go beyond your work environment, Adler suggests. Look at a painting and ask, what do I see? If you connect what you see in the painting to your current situation, what new vantage points are revealed to you.

As Adler summed up:

Using a journal regularly will give you the courage to see the world differently, to understand the world differently and to lead in new and needed ways.

In pandemic – and post-pandemic times – our world is craving innovative, inspired leadership.

The New Year is a perfect time to begin journaling.

We can discover ourselves, our inner gifts, and realize out-of-the-box solutions we might ordinarily have overlooked.

“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing

but life-expanding.” – Jen Williamson

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Self Awareness Leadership

Truly Effective Leadership Comes With Self-Awareness

Would you want to work for you? Self Awareness Leadership

Asking yourself this question can greatly improve your leadership skills. Why? Because it’s a first step toward greater self-awareness, which has been proven to be an essential trait of effective leaders.

Self awareness helps leaders to know their natural dispositions and preferences so they can improve upon or compensate for them as needed. It also improves the bottom line. A 2013 study by Korn/Ferry International discovered that “public companies with a higher rate of return (ROR) also employ professionals who exhibit higher levels of self-awareness.”

Wherever you are on the spectrum of self-awareness, consider taking a fresh look at how it can transport your leadership skills to new heights.

Self Awareness Leads To More Emotional IntelligenceEffective leadership

Being self-aware, according to Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, is “one of the core components of emotional intelligence.”

And strong emotional intelligence can give you the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others. You can then use that awareness to better guide your own behavior and your relationships with self and others — which makes you a leader that people want to follow.

World renowned researcher who coined the term “emotional intelligence,” Daniel Goleman, elaborates on this concept in a recent business article from The Telegraph. He explains, “If you think of the worst and best bosses you’ve ever had, it had nothing to do with their title or degree, but everything to do with the kind of person they were – for example, whether they were emotionally intelligent or not. People want to work for a person who is.”

If this all makes sense to you, then you’re ready to commit to gaining greater self awareness.

Try These Strategies to Improve Self-Awareness

Here are some easy ways to start down the path to heightened self awareness.

  1. Use one of the many tests available to better understand your behavior and mSelf Awareness Leadershipotives. Some good ones include:
  • Leadership Circle ProfileNot only tells you what is or is not contributing to a leader’s effectiveness, but also tells you “ why” this is so. It gives the leader causational insight into what is happening beneath the surface.
  • Myers Briggs – Reveals your “sweet spot” personality for working and communicating with others, which may or may not be the optimal approach in your work with others.
  • CliftonStrengths (formerly Strengthsfinder) – Shows you your “natural strengths,” which the test defines as your thinking style or the type of work you thrive on.
  1. Learn what triggers your behaviors. What particular drivers make you react a certain way—and why? What are your personal or professional blind spots? Identifying and understanding your triggers can help you achieve more productive interactions with others.
  2. Practice mindfulness. One of the key benefits of practicing mindfulness is a direct increase in self-awareness. The Harvard Business Review recently cited their work with a global IT company from Silicon Valley which showed that “even just five weeks of 10 minutes of daily mindfulness training enhanced the participating leaders’ self-awareness up to 35%.”
  3. Ask for feedback. This can sometimes be tough to hear, so choose someone you trust to share their view of your typical interactions. Be open to what they have to say – and be willing to implement changes if they are in alignment with your priorities and values.
  4. Be easy on yourself. Remember, you’re a work in progress! Look at your successes and what you’ve learned objectively, acknowledging what you did well – and what you might do differently next time. Learning from our mistakes is a key component of gaining self awareness.

Along with the tips above, there’s one more thing for self-aware leaders to practice…

Strong Leaders Combine Self-awareness leadershipSelf-Awareness With Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is simply being aware of how your behavior impacts those you lead and then making adjustments as needed. This proves to your team that you want to bring out their best, without being intimidating or negative.

Leaders with both self-awareness and self-regulation skills set a positive example for their team members to follow, building teams that are more motivated, productive, and willing to courageously grow in their own right.

As a leader, could you ask for anything more?

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