7 – Leading with Compassion
Today's class is about being loved. But not just being loved, being loved in a way that allows you to be very successful at the same time, getting stuff done. So, we have this dichotomy or this false dichotomy. We like to think that if we're at work especially if we are managers, we think that we have to make a choice between being loved and being effective. You would think that you can't have both. If you are loved, you don't get stuff done, if you get stuff done, people hate you. I want to suggest that you can have your karma and eat it too. That it is possible to be loved and effective at the same time and this is the essence of today's class.
So, let me quote an interesting study and this was a study that is a quote from a book, Encouraging the Heart. In this study, researchers get a bunch of managers from a company, they measured their effectiveness and managing and try to find out what distinguished the best managers from the worst managers. So, they mention a couple of factors and they tried to figure out the top, the what distinguished the top 25 percent top quarter managers from the bottom quarter.
Here's the really interesting finding, interesting because it's sort of counter intuitive, which is that of all the factors that were studied in this study, it turns out that only one, only one differentiated the top performers from the bottom performers and the one factor is affection. Affection both expressed in one thing. So, it turns out that the best managers are those who like people, who can love people and want people to love them back. Somehow, loving people wanting people to love you back is the condition for outstanding leadership. Which is, at first a bit strange, but it turns out there's a very simple reason behind it.
And a very simple reason is, the more we like somebody, all other things equal, the more we like somebody, the harder we are willing to work for them and a better quality of our work. It is that simple.
So, managers who are loved, they have people who work harder and produce better work which is what makes them more effective managers. Simple as that. And this study is not just a single study. Remember from a couple of classes ago we talk about naval officers where a study showed that the most effective commanders in the Navy are people who are liked. So, you see a trend. The best managers tend to be those who are liked.
So, for this class, we deal with three main sub-topics. The first topic is leading with compassion. The second is communicating with insight and a third is influencing with goodness.
So, first let's talk about compassion. What is compassion? Embarrassingly, when we started this work, we realize there is no scientific consensus for the definition of compassion. However, we did we did find a definition that we like a lot. And this is a definition from Stanford University specifically from a Tibetan scholar called, Thupten Jinpa. And this is his definition of compassion. He defined compassion as a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and, very importantly, aspiration to see the suffering relieved. Specifically, and even more importantly, Jinpa specified three components of compassion. And the three components of compassion are this.
First study said affective component which is, "I feel for you." Second is a cognitive component of compassion which is, "I understand you." And the third component is the motivational component which is, "I want to help you." So, these are the three components of compassion.
So, why are we are talking about compassion in this class, in a class about emotion intelligence and leadership? It's very simple. There is a very close relationship between compassion and leadership. And the first hint is this. The first hint comes from a quote from a book by Bill George. The book is called True North, and Bill George was a CEO of Medtronics and for his time he was one of the most respected CEOs in America. And this is what he says. And in this book, by the way, is not just his own personal experience, it is the experience of 200 or so authentic leaders that he interviewed.
And this is what he said, and this is actually the consensus of all these leaders which is this. The transformation from "I" to "we" is the most important process leaders go through. So, this is the connection between compassion and leadership, specifically authentic leadership, is the transformation from "I" to "we". That is the most important step taken by a leader.
And so, if you are skilled in compassion, you're already there, you already know how to do this. So, you are already ahead of the game when it comes to becoming a leader.
But wait there's more. More good stuff. There is a very nice book titled, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. And this is a book about how a team dysfunctions and how it can be highly functional. There turns out to be a specific relationship between the five ways a team dysfunctions and it can be represented in this pyramid over here.
So, when a team is dysfunctional, it begins with absence of trust. Specifically, what Lencioni calls vulnerability-based trust. It is when team members do not trust other team members enough to show their vulnerabilities and because of that, they never ask for help. They never say things are going wrong and so they wouldn't say, "I know my project is getting late. I need resources." They would never say that because they cannot show their vulnerability. They have to put out a brave face and because of that, there is no productive conflict. There is no productive discussion and then it cascades all the way up to inattention to results.
The lack of trust lies at the base of a team's dysfunction. A team dysfunctions when there's no trust and then when there's trust within the team members, there begins a process that turns it into a highly functioning team.
Trust. Specifically, vulnerability-based trust. And this vulnerability-based trust is basically what compassion is about. If the leader is compassionate, if the leader has a strong in all three factors of compassion, "I understand you. I feel for you. I want to help you," then it creates the conditions for this trust in the team. So, there is a second way that compassion leads to effective leadership.
But wait there's even more. There's something else which is even more important, which is the idea of Level 5 Leadership. And this comes from a very good book called, Good To Great. This book, Good To Great, starts with a fascinating premise, at least fascinating to me, a data loving engineer, and the idea was that in this in this book or in this study, they looked at all public companies, I think from 1965 onwards all the way until, if I remember correctly 1995, so for my extended period of time, and they look at every company that's been listed publicly and they look specifically for companies that go from good to great.
So, in other words these are companies that started off as good company, so not bad companies. They are performing at roughly the industry's average. So, they're making money they are like retaining dividends and so on, but something happened to these companies. For a prolonged period of time, and it was defined in 11 years or more to weed out the flukes, for a prolonged period of time, these companies greatly outperformed the rest of the industry.
So, in other words they went from good to great. And this book is about sifting through all the data to figure out what turned these companies from good to great. So, that is fascinating. What I found even more fascinating was what came out of a study. And what came out, the first thing that came out, is that good to great companies have a very specific kind of leaders and these leaders are called Level 5 leaders.
So again, in the book Jim Collins defined five levels of leadership. And level four are effective leaders. So, these are people who are good CEOs. The CEOs who run companies that make money, retain dividends and so on, and they survive and so on. However, Level 5 leaders go beyond that. Level 5 leaders go beyond being good CEOs and they turn companies from good to great.
And here's the question. What other factors do they possess? What is the differentiating thing between Level 5, Level 4 leaders? It turns out there are two differentiating factors and the two seems paradoxical. Comparing a Level 5 leader to a Level 4 leader has great ambition, at the same time he's personally humble. There is a paradoxical mix of ambition and humility. Because for a Level 5 leader his or her ambition is to want serving or creating greater good and because it is focused on greater good, he or she doesn't feel the need to inflate his own ego.
And that creates Level 5 leadership. So, that leads us to a question. Are Level 5 leaders trainable and if so, how do you train them? We don't actually know the full answer, but we do know that there is a relationship between compassion and Level 5 leaders. It's just a relationship.
Remember the three factors of compassion, the three components, they are the affective component, "I feel for you," the cognitive component, "I understand you," and most importantly, the motivation component, "I want to help you."
What if you superimposed the three components of compassion on the two factors of Level 5 leaders? And remember the two factors of Leve 5 leadership: humility and great ambition for greater good. And if you superimpose them, you find a relationship. You find that the first two components of compassion create the condition for personal humility and the last component of compassion, the motivational component create the conditions for great ambition for greater good.
And therefore, we can confidently say that compassion is a necessary component of Level 5 leadership and therefore compassion training is the necessary training for Level 5 leaders.
So, compassion is nice and good but that leads us to a question. How do you train it? And it turns out it's very simple. Remember from last the last class we talk about creating mental habits. So, we use that for training of kindness, loving kindness. And we can use the same technique for training compassion. It's all about creating the mental habits that are conducive for compassion.
So, now let's begin our practice. So, let's sit in the position that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time, whatever that means to you.
So, sitting in the position, let's begin by resting the mind. If you want to, you can imagine the mind resting very gently on the breath. And if you want to, you can think of your mind or think of your breath as a mattress and the mind resting very gently on it. And let's stay in this state of rest for about a minute.
Now, let's connect with the goodness within ourselves. Our love, our compassion, our altruism and our inner joy. If you wish, you may visualize your goodness as a white, a faint white light radiating out of your body.
When you breathe in, breathe in all your goodness and breathe it in to your heart. And then use your heart to multiply all the goodness you just breathed in by a fact of 10.
And then when you breathe out, give all the goodness to the world.
So, now let's shift gears a little bit and connect with the goodness of everybody in the room or if you are alone in your room, imagine yourself connecting with the goodness of everybody around you in your building or in your office or in your apartment building. So once again, when you breath in, breathe in the goodness of everybody around you. And if you like, you may imagine their goodness radiating from their body as faint white light, if you want.
And then breathing all their goodness into your heart and multiplying it by 10. And as you breathe out, breathe out all the multiplied goodness to the whole world And again, if you like to, imagine that as breathe in white light radiating from you, touching everybody in the world.
I'm going to pause for two minutes.
Finally, let's connect with the goodness of everybody in the world. And once again, if you would like to, you may visualize everybody in the world radiating their goodness as faint white light. And as you breathe in, breathe in everybody's goodness, the goodness of everybody in the world, into your heart. Multiply that by 10.
And as you breathe out, breathe out all the goodness. And if you want to again, as brilliant white light radiating towards everybody in the world, touching every human being.
So, I hope all of you like that exercise. And for those of you who are brave, there is an exercise or practice even better than this and even more effective, but it's more difficult. So, let me tell you what it is and if you want to, you can practice it on your own.
So, here's the practice.
Remember that in the previous practice, we breathe in goodness of other people ourselves and other people, we transform it into more goodness and breathe that out.
So, the change is this. The change is instead of breathing in goodness, we breathe in suffering. If you want to, you can visualize your suffering as black disgusting gooey stuff coming out from you. Breathe that in, transform that into goodness, and then breathing that out. And then after a while of doing that, you breathe in the suffering of people around you as black disgusting gooey stuff into your body, into your heart, turning that into goodness, breathe out and then do it for everybody in the world, right?
There's a name for this practice. It's called, "tonglen" which is a Tibetan word which literally means giving and taking. So, the idea is taking suffering and giving goodness. And this practice is extremely powerful. The Dalai Lama, for example, is supposed to be doing this every day. This is one of his main practices. It turns him into the man he is.
This practice gives you at least three mental habits, which is even more powerful than the mental habits that we talked about earlier. And the first is to become fearless towards pain. Because the idea is, if you're willing to breathe in suffering that creates a fearlessness in the mind towards suffering. Very powerful.
The second is again you become confident in the transformative power of self. You become able to transform, in your mind at least, you can transform suffering into goodness.
And the third is, like the previous exercise, giving the gift of goodness to everybody. And my own experience of this practice is that the very first time I did it, it changed me. The very first time I did this I found my level of self-confidence jumped a big notch and over time I realized that that jump in self-confidence was permanent. Which is very surprising, right? You do an exercise. You sit for a few minutes. You have a significant and permanent change in self-confidence.
How does that come about? So, in my case, I realized what happened was once I was able to breathe in my own suffering and breathing in suffering other people, I realize that what has been holding me back is fear of suffering. And I find it the moment I'm willing to even breathe it in. I built a barrier. I built a barrier, my confidence increased. As simple as that.
So, the next part of social skills is communicating with insight. And we're going to focus on one core piece here which is the topic of having difficult conversations. And difficult conversations is such a huge topic and such an important one. One way to look at our work time is that it's one conversation after another.
And the topic here is, how can we build more trust?
How can we build more trust in our workplaces as a leader or as a co-worker? And one of the key ways to do this is to have conversations that we find we are avoiding, conversations that are difficult which usually means we're expressing something that's hard for us to express or often expressing something about ourselves and our own feelings.
So, we've been talking a lot about two of the three pieces of a difficult conversation which is the content and the feeling part. New to this is what we would call the identity, which is really kind of a core sense of who you are. So, within any difficult conversation, the most skillful way to approach it is to recognize that there are three primary parts of any conversation. There's the content, there's the feelings, and there is the identity.
There are many different identities but three core identities, which I want to mention, are the questions; Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love? Or as Meng would add to this, Am I good looking? But we don't worry about that particular identity. It's really these three; competency, am I a good person, am I worthy of love.
So, how do we go about having a difficult conversation skillfully and in a way that will build more trust. This is the essential reason why we're going to have this difficult conversation is because we want to build more trust in our relationships. So, the first part of having a difficult conversation is to recognize that this conversation is going to have these three pieces. It's going to have content, feelings, and identity. Next, is to check in with yourself.
Why am I having this conversation? Why do I want to have this conversation? Is this something that would be useful to raise? Is this a conversation that is likely to build more trust?
And the next, is starting from what we call starting from the third story, which is the story of, how would this look, how would this conversation look if you were to step outside of yourself and look at what's happening between you and these other people or this other person and this conversation that you want to have. And you might explore this story from these couple different points of view. How might it look? How would the content look? How would the feelings look? How would the identity look from this other person's point of view as well as how does it look from your own?
And also, as you're about to enter this conversation, you want to start it from a sense of problem solving. This is great. I love this cartoon from Ming's book. How about now? Is now a good time to do the difficult conversation exercise while you're there on the desert island? Yes, this would be an excellent time to have the difficult conversation.
And also, a lot of this topic is about influencing with goodness. The reason we're having the difficult conversation is this is a powerful way to influence another person but to influence in a way that has a positive result. And this is kind of bringing back something that we talked about in the last class is David Rock's SCARF model. And again, it's just a reminder in terms of this question of influence that these five categories are kind of core ways that we are being influenced and influencing others: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.
So, emotions are contagious. This is a really core piece of understanding social skills and working with teams and also building trust.
And this is just a scientific, physiological fact of life that how we are, our own moods, our own emotional life, is always being influenced and influencing the emotional lives of others.
There's a really interesting study that was done. This was a study done at Yale in which there is a group of people who were making a decision about whether to give someone a raise or not. And what they didn't know was that one of the people in the group was a plant, was an actor.
And the way this study worked is that this particular actor came in and experimented with different moods and each time his mood had a tremendous effect over the mood as well as the outcome of the group. So, when this person when this plant, when this actor came in as someone who was kind of upbeat and was in a good mood, this group was able to make a really good and effective decision.
When the same group met and this person came in and was kind of grumpy and was in a bad mood, the group was much less functional and, in the end, they were not able to make a very good decision. So, emotions are amazingly contagious.
So, how do we influence change? What are the ways that we can actually skillfully influence the change of others and the teams that we're working with? I just want to mention four key practices briefly. One is recognizing that we are always influencing others. I think we've talked about this a little bit in a previous class. I think of this as one of the key rules of influence that everything we do and everything we don't do, everything we say and everything we don't say has influence over others. And this is kind of a very primal way of expressing and living with self-awareness in the work world.
The other way, another good practice of influencing others is to see how we can strengthen self-confidence.
What can we do? What can we do as part of our own self-confidence to help empower others? One way I like to think of this is, how can we help create spaces that people can move into that gives them a sense of feeling good about themselves, of getting to know themselves better, and ultimately feeling a sense of more awareness and more confidence.
The third is looking at how we can help people succeed knowing that everyone around us wants to be successful, we all want to be successful, how can we help others succeed.
And then the fourth is this practice of being aware of how can we serve the greater good. And part of it is recognizing that in almost any situation, we all have our own self-interest. We often have the interest of our team and there's the greater good of what's really good for the company. And just to be able to recognize and let go when appropriate of what our self-interest is and to move towards working for the greater interest, the greater interest, the greater good.
So, we're coming now to the end of Search Inside Yourself. This is the last class. So, just to recap. Key points. The first and most important point is that compassionate leadership can bring out the best in all of us. This is the most important takeaway.
The second is what we did, this meditation on multiplying goodness. This is something you can do on your own and you can do throughout the day.
The third piece is about difficult conversations and how to have difficult conversations.
And last, the skills around influence. The influence of self-awareness, understanding others, and serving the greater good.
And last, I want to show this is Ming's book, Search Inside Yourself, which would be the key book of this class. Two other books that I want to recommend. Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence. And Daniel Goleman's, Emotional Intelligence.
Your Brain at Work by David Rock is another book we recommend.
And the homework here is very simple. Live long and prosper. Thank you very much.