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Checking in or checking out


August 12, 2021

By Rowan Van Dyk

Checking in or checking out

4 min

The world is in a crisis. Economies are failing; jobs are disappearing; we are battling a global pandemic; there is global political unrest, and our spirit is being tested. Therefore, it is so important for leaders to show compassion.

A while back a client of mine tragically lost one of their staff through suicide. When I questioned them later, they told me that she seemed fine, even up to the day before the tragic event. She never showed any signs of depression and was always upbeat at work.

How can someone who appears upbeat suddenly decide to end her life? Did no-one see the signs? Did no-one get close enough to her to see her pain?

In the book of Galatians chapter 6 verse 2, Paul instructs us to “carry each other’s burdens…” (NIV) This does not mean that we should physically bear their pain, but instead that we should be aware of one another’s hurt and be prepared to come alongside the person and provide comfort and support.

Compassion is the quality of having positive intentions and real concern for others. Compassion in leadership creates stronger connections between people. It improves collaboration in the team, increases the levels of trust, and enhances loyalty. Studies have also found that leaders who show compassion are perceived as stronger and more competent.

As the tragedy and hardship of our current situation unfolds, leaders need to place far more emphasis on and greater value in caring about people’s wellbeing.

Compassion on its own however is not enough and for leaders to be effective, compassion must be combined with wisdom.

Leadership is not easy and to be effective, it often requires pushing agendas, giving tough feedback, making hard decisions that disappoint people and put pressure on them. A compassionate leader has the ability to do hard things in a human way.

The starting point for having compassion for others is having self-compassion. You can only genuinely have compassion for others if you first have compassion for yourself. If you’re overworked and out of balance, it’s impossible to help others find their balance. Self-compassion includes getting quality sleep and taking breaks during the day by chewing the cud. Let go of obsessive self-criticism and stop criticizing yourself for what you could have done differently or better. Cultivate self-talk that is positive and see your setbacks as a learning experience by rather focusing on what you could do differently in the future.

Get into the habit of checking your intention for the chat before you meet with others. By also exercising empathy along with compassion you are able to put yourself in their shoes and be able to ask how you can best be of benefit to this person or these people. The mental states you develop can get stronger and more prominent if you practice this and will assist in increasing your compassion.

Research suggests that the best way for leaders to improve employee wellbeing is not through programmes and initiatives but through day-to-day actions showing compassion.

We have often heard the leadership gurus tell us that the best leaders lead from the front, but I would like to suggest that the more successful leaders are those who lead from the heart. Leaders who have the ability to inspire others through compassion, flexibility, support, empowerment and being a genuinely positive person, get the best results. This is not always as easy as it sounds and will time and effort on the part of the leader.

When you can develop a positive mental attitude and be the kind of leader who always has something uplifting to say, you make people feel comfortable around you. This along with what you have already learnt in many of the previous lessons, will help the team members to feel secure enough to come and talk to you if any concerns or issues arise during work related activities and even their personal lives.

When you treat people with compassion they won’t soon forget. You cultivate people who want to work for you not because of what you do but because of who you are.

If my client had spent more time chatting with the employees, maybe, just maybe they would have been given a clue as to the employee’s mental state at the time and possibly intervened and prevented a tragedy.

A practice I teach all the leaders I work with is having regular “Check-In Chats” with their employees. This provides the opportunity to ask questions and listen and in so doing learn a bit more about the employee that is not necessarily work related.

A considerate and compassionate leader understands that always talking about themselves isn’t especially useful as a conversation starter, and that when leaders stop focusing on their own needs, they’re able to develop a relationship that shows genuine concern for other, that allows the employee to open up a bit more.

Effective leadership finds its source in listening and understanding. The amount of time you spend talking to and listening to an employee is a sign of how important you consider them to be to you and to the team. The more successful leaders I have worked with spend a lot of time walking around and chatting with their employees. They welcome their comments and suggestions and encourage open discussion and disagreements about work. This creates an environment where people feel the work belongs to them as well as to the organization leaving them to feel good about themselves and be more committed to the team.

Time is among the most precious, and scarce, resources we have. Compassionate leaders know that time invested in their team will yield the best results. If the team feels it has a strong relationship with the leader because the leader has invested time and effort in them, they will always go the extra mile for the team and the leader.

Leadership is about compassion. It’s about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.

Compassion isn’t something you’re born with—it grows out of considerate behaviour. Employees in general consider their best leaders to be the ones who are empathetic, sympathetic and understanding In other words those leaders who are compassionate, considerate.

Plan some more check-in chats with your team and check in with how they are doing. Listen rather than talk and remember to ask the great questions which center around you can be of benefit to them and not making it all about you.

As you look ahead, think about how you can share your appreciation, respect and caring with your team. All it takes is an investment of your time, energy and focus.