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by Bill Cropper, Director - The Change Forum
Extracts from The Change Forum's Conversational
Compassionate Leaders – a
Most leaders are still trained to lead with
their heads, not their hearts. They’re conditioned to put business before
benevolence. The public profile of a good leader espoused in the press,
for instance, routinely includes attributes like 'tough, decisive,
hard-nosed, quick-to-judge, ultra-rational and results-driven'.
Compassionate leaders are ‘in-tune’
feeling-wise. What they say and do resonates – and they always have
the time to engage in connective conversations with others.
Compassionate leaders manage their moods.
They know feelings are catchy and they use positive emotions to inspire,
not infect others with negative, de-motivating feelings.
While we’ll no doubt never rid ourselves of
the hard-hearted, bottom line exec, we may find those who exhibit the
characteristics of a compassionate leader may just fare better in handling
crises, inspiring people to committed action and communicating more
effectively in the more challenging economic, ecological and social
climate this new millennium brings.
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Want to be Happy?
Davidson’s deep brain scans of Buddhist
meditators using functional M.R.I. and advanced EEG analysis, confirm that
meditation strengthens connections in those parts of the brain that calm
feelings like fear or anger and help regulate emotions1. For
He found a ‘Loving-Kindness’ meditation that
focuses on empathetic and compassionate feelings about oneself and others
'lights up' the left prefrontal cortex – part of the brain associated with
feelings of joy, happiness, enthusiasm and resilience. (The right, by the
way, is linked with fear, anxiety, sadness and depression.)
While we strive to find happiness outside
ourselves – in wealth, success, fame, work or relationships – the truth is
that the extent of our happiness depends mainly on our emotions. And
compassion is key. It’s possible to train our brain to be happy. So if you
want to be happy – don’t worry – and cultivate compassion!
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The Components of Compassion…
up compassion? Is there such a big gulf between east and west in our
understandings of this term or is there agreement on some of its essential
In Daniel Goleman’s 4th book “Destructive
Emotions: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama”2 which brings
together some of the best minds on the subject from both east and west, a
discussion develops over the divergence in our mental models of
The western view is we’re essentially selfish,
but rationally have to be nice to others to get what we want – that under
threat, stress, scarcity, we drop compassion and our selfish side emerges.
Despite this fundamental difference, it seems
there are more commonalities than we think:
1. Respect and caring is common meeting
ground. In The Art of Happiness3, the Dalai Lama
defines compassion as “a mental attitude based on the wish for others
to be free of their suffering, associated with a sense of commitment,
responsibility and respect towards the other…” Boyatzis and
McKee in Resonant Leadership4 claim the components of
compassion are “being in tune with others” which “involves
caring about them – and that is what evokes compassion. You feel
curiosity, respect and real empathy."
2. Empathy’s a common denominator,
Compassion, he confirms, is also a selfish
motive – “There is also a sense of its being a state of mind that can
include a wish for good things for oneself” – that it can make us feel
good and look after ourselves. Buddhists call this notion
'self-cherishing'. It reminds us of the old adage that ‘To love someone
well, you need to love yourself first.’
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Compassion – reviving ‘a
The Lost Art of
Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of
Buddhism and Psychology,
Lorne Ladner 2004, HarperCollins, New York
Compassion is often seen as a distant,
altruistic ideal cultivated by Christian Saints and Buddhist monks or as
an unrealistic response of the naively sentimental or kind-hearted.
Ladner deftly reminds us that genuine
happiness won't come from our misdirected striving and craving. He covers
some clear, effective practices for cultivating compassion in daily living
and shows how its practical application in our life can be a powerful
force in achieving happiness.
“I set out to write The Lost Art of
Compassion”, says Ladner, “in order to provide methods ordinary
Westerners can use outside of the Buddhist context.
From a psychological perspective, what's
important is to become aware of the great value of compassion for our own
and others' happiness and then to apply practical methods in our daily
lives for actually increasing our feelings of love and compassion.
If we spend time actively
cultivating such feelings, then we will quickly begin seeing how they lead
to happiness for ourselves…
When we develop feelings of love or
compassion, we may not always be able to actually benefit others in a
direct way, but we ourselves do always benefit from such feelings. They
serve as causes for our own happiness. And, as we give more and more
time to developing such feelings, then we will naturally begin benefiting
others as well. My experience as a psychotherapist has shown me that the
expression of simple human compassion is healing in-and-of-itself. By
developing deep, powerful feelings of compassionate connection with
others, we can learn to live meaningful and joyful lives. Such feelings of
joyful compassion teach us how taking care of others is actually a supreme
method for taking care of ourselves.”
While “The Lost Art” could almost be a
primer to Buddhism, its real value is as a ‘how-to’ guide. Not a fast-fix,
but Ladner offers 10 reflective practices to open up to compassion –
emphasising that "you cannot give others what you do not have
yourself." His method gradually builds outward from establishing a
secure self to caring for others. And he does this without making us feel
like we need to reach nirvana next week.
© Bill Cropper -
The Change Forum 2009
More topics and tips about leading with
compassion in our Conversational Coaching
E-NEWS Issue 10.
Information on our 2-day advanced EI coaching
clinic for leaders: Course Outline:
Compassionate Leadership ~ making space
for compassion in leadership, life and work
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1 “The Neuroscience of Emotion”
Richard Davidson in Destructive Emotions and how we can overcome them:
A Dialogue with The Dalai Lama (pp 179-204) Daniel Goleman 2003,
2 Destructive Emotions and how
we can overcome them: A Dialogue with The Dalai Lama, Daniel Goleman
2003, Bloomsbury, London
3 The Art of Happiness: A
Handbook for Living – His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler,
M.D. 1998, Hodder, Sydney
Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through
Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee
2005, Harvard Business School Press, Boston Mas.
5 The Lost Art of Compassion:
Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and
Psychology, Lorne Ladner 2004, HarperCollins NY
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