The elusive ‘com’ in ‘passion’

In one of my conversations with a close friend, it came out that she was being constantly rebuked by her own daughter on not being caring enough. I was puzzled. What did ‘not caring enough’ really mean?

The annual organisational surveys also pose questions on leadership and leadership style and often, the leader is ‘not caring enough’ crops up.

Sharing this with a few other professionals, I believe there is more to this ‘not caring enough.’ Let us take a pause and try to reframe this.

As we grow in our career, our need for connection with meaningful leaders evolve. At the beginning of our professional journey, we are eager to please and seek ample appreciation. We are yet to find our bearings. We are plagued with self-doubt because we are a fledgling, we are trying to understand our own skills and fine tune our competencies. In this phase, we gravitate towards colleagues and managers who ‘feel for us’, or, in other words, are sympathetic towards our situation and how we navigate the issues. We feel happy on learning that we are not the only ones going through the pangs of career growth! There is almost a sense of sadism that engulfs us when we find someone else in a similar or worse situation than ours. We are human, after all.

From sympathy to empathy

Years down the line, as a mid-manager, we often seek out an empathetic soul in the organisation that one works for. Someone who feels with you, someone who can relate to what you are experiencing. One no longer wants the sympathetic look! Why? It is the understanding of our own skills and successes in subsequent jobs that makes us stand on a firmer footing and lean towards an empathetic leader or colleague.

For years, a leader who demonstrated ‘empathy’ was the most favored. She/he understood the pains, the trauma, the little setbacks, the fighting spirit, the will to overcome – there was a connection.

Tough times call for tough decisions

As new challenges besieged organisations and there was little cover from global events causing an impact in some way or the other, leadership itself metamorphosed. Mergers and acquisitions became a trend that led to job reshuffles or relocations, not to mention the job losses that accompanied the new entity. The competition became fiercer and the noise around performance and quality went up quite a few notches higher.

This led to leaders having to take some hard decisions. What went out of the window here was the ‘compassion’ part.

The ‘com’ in the passion

For years and even today, if there is one metric for success that always works, it is the passion that you bring to your job. Leaders additionally, need to have that ‘com’ precede the passion – ‘compassion.’

Compassionate leadership is the ability to do hard things in a human way. Leaders get caught up in the ‘either’ ‘or’ scenario here. They think they can either be human or be hard. If they are hard and/or make difficult decisions, then they are losing touch with humanity.

Leaders struggle to come across as someone willing to help and be empathetic while also not shying away from taking a hard decision. It is the search for that balance that makes for a mature leader. One, who can connect with colleagues, feel for them and work towards finding solutions that empower the team instead of creating a sense of fatigue and helplessness.

A compassionate leader displays genuine care. The over arching intent is to support, help and find answers. This is what ‘caring enough’ means.

We can all integrate ‘compassion’ in our day-to-day interactions with our colleagues, friends or family members. It calls for expanding our thinking to embrace the other person’s thoughts and feelings and at the same time staying firm on the outcome we know is the best for the situation. Results are important and so is the well-being of our colleagues, friends and family members.

Work on adding that ‘com’ piece to your ‘passion’ to grow and be able to take hard decisions that need to made and told in a genuine, caring way – there isn’t any an ‘either’ ‘or’ situation here.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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