In the leadership world, lots of conversations have centered around soft skills. We seem to agree that everyone needs them, but what are they.
Soft skills are character traits and people skills that characterize a person's relationships with other people. In the workplace, soft skills are considered to be a necessary complement to hard skills, which are the person's knowledge and occupational skills.
Soft skills include interpersonal skills—the ones we commonly call “people skills”—communication skills, listening skills, time management, empathy, and others.
But a considerable number of leaders are realizing that what the world needs more than sympathy and empathy, more than simply soft skills, is compassion. Sympathy means, “I’m sorry you are in pain.” Empathy means, “I feel your pain.” But compassion goes much further.
Compassion says, “I’ll do whatever I can to alleviate your pain.”
You don’t have to feel other people’s feelings. You may not be able to sincerely. But that’s okay. You DO have to care about their feelings, and anyone can do that. Officially, the definition of compassion is “awareness of the misfortune of another, accompanied with the action to relieve it.”
To be an effective leader I need to know what is going on in the lives of people who are on the team. I must make sure I am alert, aware, and listen and watch intentionally.
You don't have to compromise your convictions to be compassionate. Ignore that little voice in your head that will tell you, “Since I can't do it for everyone, I shouldn't do it for anyone.” That's nonsense. Don't try to be fair. Be engaged, especially now in our culture where everyone is carrying a heavy load. This doesn't come naturally for me. I care—I really do. But in the rush of life, I forget how important it is to act on it.
Call somebody even if you can't call everybody. Write a note to somebody even if you can’t write a note to everybody. Text somebody even if you can’t text everybody. If you do this regularly you will eventually get to everyone, and this is the responsibility of a leader.
We say we want to lead with courage and confidence, but it’s more important to lead with your humanity, your presence, your empathy, and especially your compassion. Make sure the people who are looking to you for leadership know you care, and that they can count on you to do whatever you can do to alleviate their pain. Your humanity and heart need to be showing.
During times of uncertainty, disruption, and fear, your presence is more important than ever. They need to continually see your willingness to stick around, your willingness to keep showing up. Your eagerness to do whatever you can, even if it is awkward and uncomfortable, is actually comforting and strengthening. Your compassion is more important than anything you will say. It is far more important than looking strong and having answers. Compassion is impossible without presence.
Some will settle for thinking that there’s nothing for me to do until I can solve the issue completely. Until I have answers and solutions, I should just be silent. That's a deadly mistake. In times of uncertainty our presence is everything.
If you are a solution person, this will be difficult for you. You are progress-oriented. So why pull people together if we don't have solutions and answers? Because in times of disruption, there is something far more important. It’s our presence.