Why Being A Compassionate Leader Will Boost Sales
Paul Hargreaves, speaker, B-Corp Ambassador and author, explains how compassionate leadership can boost your businesses sales.
In 2018, I gave a talk at a Chamber of Commerce event in Worcestershire about business leaders needing to give thought to others in the world regarding their environmental decision-making policies, and the need for us to realise that all humans are interconnected. One of my slides was a picture of around 100 Bangladeshis wading through waist-deep water, having been flooded out of their homes – a direct consequence in that low-lying country of climate change. Emotion surged in me as soon as the slide came up on the screen and for that couple of minutes that followed, I was unable to speak. Back then I wasn’t used to crying during presentations and so I felt embarrassed, but the impact on the room was profound. It was the first time I had felt and publicly expressed such emotion about the suffering of others due to climate change and whenever I used that slide for the next two years, I had the same reaction. As a company, our efforts to reduce our environmental impact have been even more energetic and driven due to this personal growth in compassion.
The importance of compassionate leadership
If I had to choose one characteristic of leadership that this experience highlights as essential, then it would unquestionably be compassion, as every day I am made aware that this troubled world could do with more compassionate people. Compassion interconnects with all the other leadership attributes. In particular, a paramount element to feeling and demonstrating compassion ourselves is a deeper knowledge of connectivity with others. It may be important to highlight the difference between empathy and compassion at this point, which of course, work together.
Empathy is about feeling what another individual feels and connecting with their emotions. It doesn’t require action and is therefore a relatively passive state. Contrastingly, compassion compels us to act to alleviate the sufferings of others. The word ‘compassion’, originating from the Latin ‘misericordia’, literally means ‘a suffering with another’. It is about feeling what another feels and being distressed because they are in physical or emotional pain. In my own example here, the connection with the homeless Bangladeshis powerfully propelled me as a leader to change the way we behaved as a company and it kick-started our journey to carbon neutrality, which followed a year later.
True compassion is difficult to imagine without an emotional component. That emotional element can help spur us into action, as was the impact of my insight into the suffering of others through my experience at the Chamber of Commerce. Compassion without action is a paradox, and as Prince said: ‘Compassion is an action word.’
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, in his book Descartes’ Error, shows how the limbic part of the brain, which is closely linked with our emotions, is a strong factor in our decision making. This makes sense, as there is probably a time that we can all recall when a speaker has stirred us up or had an emotional response to something we have seen on social media or in a magazine, propelling us to take some form of action. Our compassion will undoubtedly be diminished unless there is action; and if we are going to be called compassionate leaders, others need to witness our actions – not just our tears.
In the west, there is a sense that if we don’t look after ourselves and sort out our own happiness first, then we will somehow be less happy, but actually, the reverse is true. We increase our own happiness and contentment considerably by reaching out to others with compassion and putting others before ourselves. As the Dalai Lama says, ‘If you want to be happy, practise compassion.’
The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 made many people globally realise this. By reaching out to others in our cities and communities, many more of us discovered that our own happiness grew by doing so. Several Eastern religions, notably Buddhism and Hinduism, talk extensively about compassion, and it is no coincidence that there is a more heightened sense of community in these regions.
Naturally, we should practice compassion towards those close to us too, not just towards those we don’t know. Entering into their sufferings as if these were our own will aid us in being better mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, etc… In fact, some may find it most challenging to practise compassion with those close to them if they come from a family at the lower end of the emotional spectrum. I have met those who find themselves crying at the end of a film or even during an episode of Britain’s Got Talent, but who find it difficult to engage with those they love with enough compassion. It’s common in our society, but don’t worry – compassion will become second nature once we begin to practise it a little more during our periods of reflection and meditation.
During the past fifty years, the leaders who have stood out as being different have operated with high levels of compassion, as they are few and far between; but if there is one characteristic that leaders need more than any other in this third decade of the 21st century, it is compassion. Are you ready for the challenge?
Every day is an opportunity to practise compassion:
» Find a picture in a magazine or online of people who are less fortunate than yourself. Imagine that you are them, feeling what they are feeling and longing for what they long for, and try to connect yourself with their suffering.
» Next, imagine someone you know but don’t particularly like. Think good thoughts or pray for them, if you are that way inclined. Hope for good things for them.
» During the day, reach out with compassion to someone who may need some love at work or at the shops or at the school gate. As we actively practise compassion, the feelings will flow too.
About the author: Paul Hargreaves is a speaker, B-Corp Ambassador, and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership out now, priced £14.99