Story: This past week, I attended a conference in San Francisco regarding culture in organizations. Great speakers like Adam Grant (Give and Take, Originals, Option B), Susan Cain (Quiet Revolution) and Lindsay McGregor (Primed to Perform) provided much insight around building more advanced cultures. Still, as I listened to many of the conversations around me, perhaps the most important ingredient in making cultures phenomenal was a subplot that has yet to find the “main stage.”
Key Point: In my view, the urgent agenda topic for real cultural breakthrough in organizations is self-compassion. Actually, it may feel counterintuitive or even paradoxical, that in searching for organization “silver bullets,” exponential progress in developing, high performing cultures, accelerates most rapidly from the prerequisite of having a majority of employees with a healthy mindset of deeply caring for oneself first. This provides a solid platform to fully translate this way of thinking to others, and ultimately the organization at large. In support of this, I want to introduce you to Dr. Kristin Neff, in case you haven’t met. The following is her brief explanation:
“Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to ‘suffer with’). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. ‘There but for fortune go I.’
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now,’ how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?
You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”
I also want to emphasize that self-compassion is NOT self-pity, self-indulgence, self-esteem or misguided self-accountability.
Personal Leadership Moves:
- To assess how much you understand and live with self-compassion, I encourage you take this survey.
- Consider investing more in the development of becoming more self-compassionate.
- I believe it is very difficult to be truly abundant as a leader without a very well-developed practice of self-compassion. Advancing others starts with evolving oneself first. The genuine capability of inspiring true and sustainable greatness in others depends upon it.
Self-compassion in Personal Leadership,
One Millennial View: Taking the test above was a little eye opening. For me, it’ll take some new learning to help me classify self-compassion differently from self-pity, but the teachings are there. I’m fairly conditioned to be the “stiff upper lip” type, and achieving some sort of self-compassion award won’t happen overnight. But thanks to folks like Dr. Neff, it’s at least a concept I can start thinking about.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis