Engage: The true value of compassionate, engaging, and inclusive leadership in social care

Engaging leadership describes a range of behaviours, values, and attitudes that, when adopted by a leader, maximise the performance potential of their team.

Published research shows that individuals led by engaging leaders experience higher levels of wellbeing and positive attitudes to work.

Both of these are key to maximising organisational performance. Successful leaders leverage extraordinary performance through simple behaviours that engage people. Those who fail to appreciate their impact on others squander talent and potential every day.

Compassion is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, nor simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their issues or suffering.

So, as a leader, if a client or colleague is in distress then for me to be compassionate there are four things I must do.

  1. Be present – I have to pay attention, I have to listen.
  2. Secondly, it’s important that I arrive at an understanding of the causes of their distress.
  3. Third is, I must empathise, I must feel at some level the feelings of distress that they have.
  4. I can then find the motivation to help, to be compelled to intervene and to make a difference.

These four elements can be broken down as:

  • Attending: notice suffering at work (your own and others); ask people about their issues
  • Understanding: be curious and generous about their issues; withhold blame and judgement; focus on ‘what’s the learning here?’
  • Empathising: be aware of continually changing conditions in yourself and others; develop empathic, observant listening and tune in to the feelings of others
  • Helping: direct your efforts towards what is most helpful in alleviating others’ suffering; create flexible time and space to help others cope.

Compassionate leadership in the workplace

So, how do we put compassionate leadership in place in the workplace? How can we increase colleagues’ effectiveness in a way that sustains their motivation but that doesn’t damage their wellbeing? How can we care for the health and wellbeing of staff to ensure their effectiveness and their wellbeing?

We can do this through compassionate leadership behaviours and by asking ourselves some key questions about how we lead our teams.

Do we actively promote a culture in which people trust each other and know that if they talk about their problems, other team members will not judge them, and they will listen and try to help? Beyond this it is important to actively encourage and empower staff to respond to any challenges colleagues face, and to also show care and concern towards the people in our teams.

Underpinning this there must be a true understanding of the value of sharing problems with others and an understanding among your team that you will try to help them if they have a problem.

Workplace culture and relationships are key in effectively leading with compassion. Don’t underestimate the importance of regular personal contact between colleagues through regular meetings, ideally face-to-face where possible. Building this connection between people in your team makes them feel known, seen and as if they belong.

Having this bond can help to identify if a colleague is facing any challenges or personal distress as regular contact and a good relationship with colleagues will make it easier to spot if their behaviour changes. Ask yourself whether you and your team would be comfortable enquiring if all was ok if you did notice a change in a member of your team and how much you know about each other’s lives and outside pressures. If this is something that needs to be developed, make sure to work on this. It’s important that people feel safe sharing any personal issues or emotions with each other so that they can bring their authentic self to work.

Being curious and generous about what issues colleagues bring to work is especially important when supporting colleagues from diverse backgrounds.  Sadly, public slights or microaggressions, can be a common occurrence for many. The cumulative effect of coping with these can become a significant burden especially if there is no opportunity to unload.

Asking yourself these questions and creating these conditions for your team brings a psychological safety and the sense of belonging in which we can all thrive and find meaning in our work. This process of affinity with the leader, the task, and the team leads to individual engagement, motivation, and fulfilment.

But, what’s important to note is that the leader goes first modelling all of the above. Leadership is a contact sport, connecting with colleagues and building social capital. Compassion in leadership creates stronger connections between people. It improves collaboration, raises levels of trust, and enhances loyalty. In addition, studies find that compassionate leaders are perceived as stronger and more competent.

And why is all this so important?

Because the effective leader keeps an unswerving eye on the prize. Leadership is hard. To be effective, it often requires pushing agendas, giving tough feedback, making hard decisions that disappoint people, and, maybe laying people off. Showing compassion in leadership can’t come at the expense of the end product which, in the case of social care, is our community receiving care and support. The risk we face is that the challenges we come against in the care sector are varied and complex. And in the process of trying to respond to them we may risk damaging the health and wellbeing of the very people we ask to deliver the health and wellbeing of our communities.


About the Author

Paul Daly is Project Manager for Workforce Inclusion, Leadership and Development at Skills for Care. Find more information and support about compassionate leadership and wellbeing on the Skills for Care website.

Picture (c) Pixabay.