Leadership Insights: September 2021- Where The Hell Is My Compassion?

Leadership Insights: September 2021- Where The Hell Is My Compassion?

I polled myself and the result was: I’m tired and angry a lot lately. NPR confirmed that I’m not alone, reporting (from a poll much larger than my own) that August 2021, was one of the lowest points in our collective “morale” response to the pandemic. Hope lightened our step in early summer when COVID numbers were low. At my workplace we were nearly all vaccinated and being in the building felt almost like old times. Then Delta. And hurricanes. And the ever-growing political divisiveness. This topic picked itself to write about as I claw my way out of a gloomy morning. Perhaps you’ll join me on this quest to lift up.

One of the best paths upward is acts of compassion, but on days like this it feels like my compassion is nowhere in sight. It helps to have some guideposts for remembering our way, to reduce the time and energy spent suffering.

Love your ugly.
Compassion inward means that you allow yourself to feel what you feel instead of fighting it. “It is what it is,” is just for this moment, not forever. My first draft of this is being written in a rather cranky and struggling space, but it is the time I have set aside to write it. So I ask myself, “What is the best I can do right now?” and be ok with that. The best I can do tomorrow will probably be better, and maybe I’ll edit this. But for this moment, this is what I’ve got. Simply accepting that has a calming effect.


Be selfish.
I’m not talking here about taking time out for yourself to escape from your work, challenges or responsibilities. In a twist on selfishness, I am talking about the selfish act of assuming goodness in others. This compassionate assumption is for you. Brene Brown, in her talk on boundaries says, “To assume the best about people is almost an inherently selfish act because the life you change first is your own.” Whoever you might put into the category of “those people,” dwelling on what “they” do or think is neither improving your mood nor the situation. Choosing to recognize that others are doing the best they can guides us back to our higher selves, a place from which we can…


When I most want to retreat from the world might be the time I most need to reach out. NPR verified that I am not alone, so even writing this today and owning how hard it is to be hopeful is a way of connecting where I can. That helps.


Combat compassion fatigue with boundaries, not less compassion.
To be clear, there is fatigue. Healthcare professionals have taken an absolute beating, and the trauma is real. But we can’t be happy without compassion, so it matters that we know what does and does not fit in our lives. For you, does the exhausted feeling stem from being too compassionate? If so, there may be boundaries that you need to set. Setting boundaries is a compassionate act. When we do for others that which they can and need to do for themselves, that’s not really compassion and it won’t make anyone happy.


Give 40 seconds.
In patient experience studies, it turns out that an average of 40 seconds is about how long it takes in a doctor/patient interaction for the doctor to convey compassion. It is seconds well spent because there is a direct correlation to increasing quality and patient motivation for their self-care. I’ll take the liberty of transferring this to leadership discussions as well. Give 40 seconds to someone who comes to you with a problem. Follow your listening with a compassionate response, e.g. “That sounds really challenging. I hope you know I’m here to support you. Let’s go over your plan together so we can explore how I can best do that.” A compassionate response from you is fertile ground for growth in those who come to you (and it’s good for you too).


For more: There is extensive research on this topic in the book, Compassionomics: the Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli.


Jo Anne Preston In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
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Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.

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