Compassionate leadership – how you can support your team during challenging times

Charlie Paradise
Public Mental Health | Swindon Borough Council
16th April 2020

Leadership is quite often linked to words such as strong, resilient, brave and bold; however compassionate leadership is a key quality and in the midst of an international crisis, it is increasingly important.

Compassionate leadership requires a level of emotional intelligence to understand the mind-set of your team. It requires leaders to pause and reflect, to offer a level of humility, to be honest, to remove barriers to communication and to put trust in our workforce.  

How to build compassion in to your leadership

When staff are furloughed: Your workforce will have a range of responses to this: some staff will take this well and understand the decision process, some will find it hard to process and may react emotionally.

Your role as a leader is to understand that this is a normal response and it is also a moveable feast. Staff members may seem fine, but four weeks into lockdown, their feelings may change and there is a role for you to play in supporting their mental wellbeing. Mental Health UK have produced a helpful blog with things for you to consider. 

It is also important for you to pause and reflect on your role in the bigger picture, you do not have a cure for coronavirus, you are not responsible for a potential recession and you cannot fix mental health problems within your workforce. You must prioritise your own mental wellbeing too.

Staff who are still working: this will present different emotions and may also include additional pressures such as home schooling, caring for relatives, general increase in anxiety and an increase in workload. 

King's College promote three overarching themes for compassionate leadership, which will apply to all businesses:

  1. Connection and belonging – this is vital for good mental wellbeing as it's important your staff feel supported and connected, especially if they are feeling unsettled or anxious. This also includes ensuring that everyone feels part of the process and not excluded. 
  2. Autonomy and control - during a challenging time it's normal to want to take control, but you must ensure your staff have a voice and their knowledge and skill sets are being utilised or they risk losing their sense of purpose. Now is the time to put trust in your team to support you.  
  3. Competence - passionate and dedicated staff will want to go over and above and as a leader it is your role to review workloads, communicate effectively and ensure your team works together. This is especially important when staff are working in isolation and are not able to participate in activities that are good for their mental health, such as socialising with friends.  

Key Workers - This comes with additional challenges and complexities. Key workers might be nationally recognised as heroes, but with constant reminders of death rates, staff working out in the community in any role may experience an increase in anxiety. They may also have challenges around home / work life balance and additional workload pressures. 

Your role as a leader should be:

  1. Keeping all staff protected from chronic stress and supporting all staff to prioritise their mental health. Mind have produced a guide for key workers that you might want to send to your staff. 
  2. Ensure that good quality communication and accurate updates are provided to all staff, especially those who are out in the community who may not have a business email address. 
  3. Rotate workers from higher-stress to lower-stress functions where possible to avoid burn out. 
  4. Implement good channels of communication for those working in the community including buddy schemes, regular supervision and team catch-up’s. 

Being a compassionate leader will help your staff during this difficult time. The world will look very different beyond coronavirus and this approach to leadership will help motivate your staff beyond this challenging period.

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