A recent New York Times interview with Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, illustrated an important point. You can hold people accountable to high expectations and show compassion at the same time. Early in her career, Ms. Leondakis felt that she needed to emulate the other (mostly male) leaders who had a take-no-prisoners, harsh style. Over time, she learned that it not only felt better to show compassion, a more compassionate approach was more effective as well.
What is compassion and how can it help you hold others accountable?
Compassion isn’t weakness. Compassion is rooted in a profound respect for others and reflects an unfailing commitment to uphold the dignity of people. As such, all people deserve compassion, even if they’ve made a mistake or even done something unethical or illegal.
Compassion requires listening. When people don’t meet our expectations, it’s all too easy to jump to conclusions. Compassion requires that you slow down and take time to gather facts and listen to the perspectives of all involved, most particularly the person who appears to have a performance issue.
Make sure performance expectations are clear. Part of being a compassionate boss is clearly outlining what you expect in terms of behavior, results and impact. This should be done not only at the point of hiring, but should be reviewed periodically. Don’t forget that communicating expectations isn’t a one-way process. Check for understanding by asking your direct report to summarize her understanding in her own words.
Schedule check-ins and follow through. The annual performance review should not be the first time your direct report hears that there is a problem. Upon hiring, or when a new project is assigned, schedule time for updates and feedback. Don’t assume that everything is going well. Ask questions and share your perspective; if more resources, such as training, information or time, are needed, advocate for what is necessary for success.
Don’t dilute feedback. You might think that you’re doing the person a favor by being less direct. In fact, you’re potentially creating harm. If your direct report doesn’t hear all of the feedback, performance may continue to deteriorate. Then you’ll be forced to deliver even more bad news – even to the point of disciplinary action.
If disciplinary action is necessary, move forward. Expectations were clear. The person was properly trained and supported. If poor performance dictates disciplinary action, as Nike says, just do it. Not ruthlessly or in a cold manner, but don’t beat around the bush. Share the behaviors that are a problem and how they impact the organization. Outline next steps and expectations. Don’t forget to listen, too, since this is one way to honor the person’s dignity. You can certainly share that you find the situation unfortunate, but remember that it’s not something you created; therefore, you cannot apologize for it.
Allow the person to have a reaction. Just don’t fall into the trap of taking responsibility for the other person’s feelings. You didn’t create the situation and aren’t responsible for managing the other person’s emotions. Listen and remain calm in the midst of the storm. Above all, avoid phrases like, I know just how you feel or everything will be all right.
A truly compassionate supervisor not only delivers the good news, but the bad as well. Done well, both types of communication foster positive relationships and professional growth. Having the other person’s best interests at heart is a great foundation. In addition to good intentions, deliver your clear, factual message with compassion. You will sow the seeds of goodwill and future success, and everyone will be happier. As the Dalai Lama says, If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
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