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Harvard Business Review – Compassionate Mgt.

The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally)

by Bronwyn Fryer  |   8:00 AM September 18, 2013

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden the topic of compassionate management is becoming trendy.

A growing number of business conferences are focusing in on the topic of compassion at work. There’s the International Working Group on Compassionate Organizations. There’s the Changing Culture in the Workplace Conference. Then there’s Wisdom 2.0, dedicated to “exploring living with greater awareness, wisdom and compassion in the modern age.” The speakers are no slouches: eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Bill Ford (yes, that Bill Ford), Karen May (VP of Talent at Google), and Linked In CEO Jeff Weiner top the bill. At TED, Karen Armstrong’s talk about reviving the Golden Rule won the TED prize in 2009 and has given rise to a Charter for Compassion signed by nearly 100,000 people.

More evidence of this trend comes from the Conscious Capitalism movement, whose membership includes companies like Southwest Airlines, Google, the Container Store, Whole Foods Market, and Nordstrom. One of the cornerstones of the movement is to try to take care not just of your shareholders, but all stakeholders (investors, workers, customers, and so on). One member is Tata, the Indian conglomerate, who makes no bones about it: “Our purpose is to improve the quality of life of the communities we serve.”

While the importance of compassion at work has long been touted by scholars like Peter Senge, Fred Kofman, Jane Dutton and others as a foundational precept of good management, managers of the traditional, critical, efficiency-at-all-costs stripe have scoffed. This isn’t surprising: given the number of nasty managers still sitting at the top of organizations, it’s easy to assume that the compassionate ones don’t often get hired, let alone encouraged and promoted. In fact, a Notre Dame study found that nice guys really do finish last, with more agreeable people earning less than those who are willing to be disagreeable. And all too often, compassionate people lack boundaries, thus allowing themselves to be used and abused; they become “toxic handlers” who absorb the organizational pain without much personal gain.

But something in the zeitgeist is changing. At Wisdom 2.0, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner told the audience that he is on a personal mission to “expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion,” and that he had made the practice of compassionate management a core value at the company. For example, he described a former colleague who was publicly disparaging someone on the team. Realizing that he’d made that mistake himself, Weiner took the fellow aside and said, “If you are going to do this, find a mirror and do it to yourself first. You’re projecting your perspective and assumptions onto that person.”

To manage compassionately, Weiner noted, doesn’t come naturally to most managers. It requires… (for more, click below)

The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally) – Harvard Business Review

 

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Bronwyn Fryer is a contributing editor to HBR.org.