Being a leader is challenging. You’re not only responsible for your own results, but your team’s as well. Compared to being an individual contributor, there are more tasks and responsibilities – not to mention opportunities for things to go awry.
It’s no wonder that leaders are often harder on themselves than a non-management employee. M Meditation, an organizer of corporate retreats, shared that 75% of its workshop participants agree with the statement: “When times are really difficult, I tend to be tough on myself.”
Enter: Self-compassion. Tay and Val of M Meditation explain the value of self-compassion in leadership: “Instead of getting hung up on mistakes and being tough on ourselves with self-deprecation and judgement, self-compassion helps us focus our energies on progress not perfection.”
Developing a self-compassionate leadership style, which changes how you interact with yourself and your time, will help you better navigate challenges, manage your staff and experience improved mental health.
First things first, you need to have a grasp on the true meaning of “self-compassion” so you can practice it in action. Professor Serena Chang of the University of California, Berkeley breaks down the elements of self-compassion in a Harvard Business Review article. Chang explains that those who are self-compassionate exhibit three behaviors:
Much of this is easier said than done, so use the following reminders to help you bring self-compassion into your leadership process.
Just because you’ve been an all-star employee doesn’t mean you can easily transition to being a perfect boss. Performance doesn’t automatically transition to management. Lars Sudman, former corporate executive and leadership consultant, explains this paradigm in his Ted Talk:
“Being a leader is a little like being a parent. Beforehand, we have all these rosy visions of how we’re going to do it, how incredible we’re going to be, and how we’ll sidestep the mistakes that we see other people make. But when it’s our turn to assume the role, we find that reality doesn’t match our expectations or imaginations.” -Lars Sudman, leadership consultant
As a leader, you have to juggle responsibilities, understand certain factors are out of your control, know that personalities play a role in the process-the list goes on. Bringing this mindset into your experience as a leader allows you to be aware of the challenges instead of letting them derail you.
So many leaders strive for perfection but this bogs down your leadership process. When other people are involved, you can’t always control the outcome but you can manage the work in hopes of delivering a successful outcome.
To let go of perfection and ensure success time and time again, bring training and learning into your leadership process. Training others takes more time and energy than simply doing it yourself and you may not see perfect results the first few times, but that’s all right.
When you let go of perfection-and the dominating leadership style that comes with it-and instead, assume your role as a teacher and guide, you’re able to show compassion to yourself and your team.
When things go wrong, you can feel bad, but don’t berate yourself. A Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study found that those who allow themselves to feel and accept negative emotions experience better mental health afterward. The results from three combined studies showed that regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, people who sat with and grasped negative feelings, rather than judged them, fared better in the long run.
A Harvard Health article further explains the meaningful results of this study in relation to self-compassion: “When a stressful situation causes negative emotions, accepting feelings of frustration – rather than trying to pretend you’re not upset or beating yourself up for feeling this way – reduces guilt and negative self-image. Over time, this will, in turn, lead to increased psychological health.”
When you can role model this behavior to your employees, they see that they too can sit with the “failures” and hard feelings, allowing everything to become more self-compassionate.
Self-compassion can help you weather the inevitable storms that come with leadership. By understanding what it means to be self-compassionate and recognizing the challenges of leadership, you can stop the quest for perfection and bring self-compassion to your employees. Check out a few of these HRMAC resources to continue growing as a leader: