Mistaking Friendship for Compassion
There are many common trends in leadership science that seem to have been misunderstood by the online community. A lot of these trends start from good, sound sources but end up spiraling into something that isn’t what they were originally intended to mean. One of these trends is having compassion towards your employees.
When we think of compassion, we think of the idea of seeing others as they are, humans; people who make mistakes, get burned out from time to time and have a complex inner life as opposed to what they show on the surface. These characteristics of “compassion” are similar to what we might find in a true friend—someone who sees you beyond what you bring to the surface.
And this is where the misunderstanding began…
Many leaders are adopting this mentality, thinking this will get their employees to respect and trust them, but they don’t know that they’re actually doing the opposite—employees see a leader and friend as two separate entities. What employees want from a friend is completely different from what they might want from a leader. Therefore, “leader” and “friend” are not interchangeable in this context.
This survey tells us everything we need to know. According to SESCO Management Consultants, only three percent of the employees surveyed wanted a “friend” in a leader. Employees find friendships in their coworkers, and outside supporters like their family and old college friends, not their leader.
So what do employees need? Compassion. They need compassion, not friendship. Compassion is being able to understand the limits of your employees and seeing them as human beings, which means letting them make mistakes and guiding them to the right course of action.
Becoming a compassionate leader—rather than a friend—is a lot more complex than you think. There are a lot of things employees wish they could find in you that compassion will help bring out of you.
The Four Things Employees Actually Want from You, Their Leader
They Want to Trust that You’ll Have their Backs
This one’s a big one.
Sometimes we see trusting your employees as just giving them the reins and letting them lead projects on their own, which is excellent! But trust is a lot more than that—employees want to feel like you’re on their side.
What does this mean? It means giving them the cold hard truth even if they won’t like it. It’s giving them the criticism and feedback they need to improve even if they won’t appreciate it at first. It’s letting them run projects like owners, but at the same time, it’s also letting them own up to their mistakes like owners.
Employees will sense when you aren’t being honest with them. They can sense when you’re holding back your true, authentic self and when you’re choosing to baby them instead of giving them feedback so that they learn. This will not only lead them to feel mistrusted but also disrespected as a result.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how important getting everyone involved in tough decision-making processes; let them lead, let them learn, and be the guiding light that helps them grow and improve.
They Want You to Be Grounded in the Face of Difficulty
Whenever something bad happens people look to their leaders for answers, advice, and a way forward. Your employees want to feel safe knowing they can rely on you to lead—knowing what to delegate and to whom, properly communicating your expectations and needs, and keeping track of your own goals.
It’s hard to feel grounded or in control in a department or company that is run by a leader who doesn’t even know what their OKRs are, or a leader that doesn’t show up in the face of difficulty. Employees will respect you more when they see you stand your ground in the face of tough situations; that means setting yourself as an example by knowing how to communicate with others, setting expectations, and meeting your own goals.
They Want You to Get It
This is where friendship gets mixed in as well.
When your employees are going through a rough time at work or in their personal lives, many online sources would tell you to be a “friend” to your employees by offering them a listening ear. But the thing is… your employees can get that from somewhere else.
So now you’re left wondering: then why are my employees so dissatisfied if a listening ear is not what they want from me? Here’s the thing: Your employees don’t want companionship, they already have their friends, coworkers, and family (and maybe even a pet dog) for that. What they want is for you to understand their limitations and shortcomings.
They want you to understand that they will sometimes feel burned out and that they won’t always meet their goals for the quarter. They want you to understand that they’re human and that you, therefore, try to work through it with them. Ask them what they need to feel more accommodated or less burned out.
They Want to See a Strong Sense of Passion
The final yet important point in this article.
When the leader doesn’t care about the ultimate goal, neither will the employees. When a leader slacks off and emits a sense of carelessness, employees will slowly then follow suit. Leaders aren’t like any other employee in a company, they’re the cheerleaders of the product, brand, and goal of the company.
It can be hard to translate the company’s goals to your employees and make them see the importance of it, but without this fiery sense of passion, your employees will just stop caring. You need to communicate that passion burning inside of you to your employees and teammates.
This contagious energy can spread rapidly and do wonders for the business.