Why Self-Compassion Is An Essential Skill For Great Leadership

May 24th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

One of the most difficult things I had to do when working a fraud investigation was look a retired couple sitting across from me in the eye and tell them that the FBI would not be investigating the criminals who had scammed these people out of their life savings.

Emotions - hard on yourself

It was truly one of the worst days of my life. The old folks had been duped into investing their entire retirement fund into a scam, and while it was all they had to live on, it still did not meet the threshold for an FBI investigation.

How could I tell them that their life’s work was not enough to capture the FBI’s attention?

A negative voice in my head kept saying that somehow I should have been able to tie their case to another scam—anything to make it work! But the truth of the matter was that I had no evidence to take it to the next step.

I criticized my ineptness and lack of creativity; I mercilessly judged myself for shortcomings when that voice in my head would not shut up. Ironically, while I felt compassion toward the retired couple, I could not extend that same kindness toward myself.

Leadership training courses and workshops on emotional intelligence spit out quotes and inspirational messages on how to be empathic, collaborative, and self-aware. But they rarely delve into the stickier issue of self-compassion. Why not?

Because self-compassion is seen by many as being too self-centric. As leaders, we are exhorted to be servant leaders, lead by example, put others before ourselves, and nurture the well-being of the team.

Meanwhile, leaders like Elon Musk and Donald Trump thrive as bullies in the work environment because they surround themselves with suck-ups who feed their ego.

Where is the healthy balance? No one wants the personal life of either Musk or Trump—losers when it comes to a relationship with self. And based on divorce rates, with others as well.

Try these 4 tips to dampen the voice of your inner critic and express more self-compassion:

1. Remember You Are Not Perfect

Stop lying to yourself that you are awesome and perfect. Because you are not. You are human. When you remember this, it is easier to forgive yourself, and when you do, you also feel less anxiety about your performance.

2. Differentiate Between Self-Esteem And Self-Compassion

There is a big difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. There’s been an explosion of literature and workshops on how to build self-esteem but the unintended result has been an epidemic of narcissism.

In Jean Twenge’s book, Generation Me, she shares the results of a study that examined the narcissism levels of over 15,000 U.S. college students between 1987 and 2006. During that 20-year period, narcissism scores soared, with 65 percent of modern-day students scoring higher in narcissism than previous generations.

Ironically, as we try to see ourselves as better than others, our sense of worthiness takes a dive. This emotional rollercoaster can lead to depression and anxiety—a reminder that we are not perfect.

In fact, a striking finding of Twenge’s study was that people with high self-esteem were much more narcissistic than those with low self-esteem. In contrast, self-compassion was completely unassociated with narcissism.

3. Reframe Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are horrible things that are really tough to beat into submission. When we succumb to them, we automatically think the cause is permanent, pervasive, and personal.

It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything, and it’s my fault.

Martin Seligman is the author of Learned Optimism and he is quoted as saying, “I am a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist. The techniques that I write about are ones that I use every day.”

So what are those techniques to ward off negative thoughts? He has a three-step process:

  • Recognize that the thought is there.
  • Treat that thought as if it were said by some third person whose job in life was to make your life miserable.
  • Learn to dispute it, to marshal evidence against it. With practice, you will get better and better at neutralizing it.

4. Talk To Yourself In A Nice Way

Experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say between 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute. The Navy SEALS and Special Forces use the power of positive self-talk as a way of getting through tough times.

For example, by instructing recruits to be mentally tough and speak positively to themselves, they could learn how to override fears resulting from the limbic brain system (amygdala), a primal part of the brain that helps us deal with anxiety.

Positive self-talk is self-compassion. You can also visualize a compassionate person saying positive things to you such as someone who loves you saying kind words, or a supportive supervisor affirming a job well done.

As a leader, you need to cultivate self-compassion. When you have self-compassion, you have feelings of self-worth, will be less embarrassed when you screw up, and less likely to take things personally.

And that is the type of leadership we all need.

How are you self-compassionate when things are not going according to plan?

 

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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5 Responses to “Why Self-Compassion Is An Essential Skill For Great Leadership”

  1. Acton Ace says:

    Leadership is a quality that everyone should process. Being a leader is not cushy along with it comes responsibility and accountability. Leaders have the responsibilities to maximize the potential of the people with whom they graft & encouraging them to follow the wisdom of others. Leader should be honest and integrated in order to succeed and inspire others to follow them.

    • Vision. A smashing leader must bring vision to life 4 that they must be future focused i.e. they must know, what is to be done, How it is to be done & For whom it is to be done. This can be done by casting their vision and ensuring that they have the right people in right place.
    • Emotional Intelligence. Good leader is always wiser with people with whom they work with for this they must be well versed with Emotional Intelligence skills. True leader should know how to use power of other people emotions along with their own this will help them more productivity and collaboration which will help them to grow further.
    • Effective Communication Skills. Savvy leaders are the one who is a mint listener, ask question and speaks if something is to be said. In leadership communication is a key, leader must be able to communicate with others but being a mint listener will surely going to help.
    • Inspiring Gratitude, Personal Responsibility, and Sacrifice in your Corporation are essentials leadership at work.
    Mr Chris Salamone https://goo.gl/S8dMjD formerly served as a faculty member at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and served as a leadership curriculum adviser at The University of Central Oklahoma. Chris Salamone works to improve the lives of young people around the world through his many philanthropic endeavors. He functions as chairman of the Lead America Foundation and extends a considerable amount of financial support to fund the education of 300 children in Haiti.

  2. Ugh what an awful day!

    Thank you for the powerful post to help us work through those awful days! Your first point is huge. I can think of many times in my life I was unconsciously striving for perfection and horrified and frustrated when that wasn’t happening!

    Thank you LaRae – for consistently providing powerful thoughts for pondering!

  3. karin hurt says:

    All good leaders feel this, not being able to do enough. When you have the responsibility for other people’s well being, if you sleep well when they are suffering, it’s time to wonder if you’re still in the right job. Angst comes with leadership. Your beautiful post does wonders in showing us how.

  4. This is such an important post, LaRae and you share such an overlooked leadership skill!

    It can be so difficult not to beat ourselves up when we make mistakes or feel that we could have handled a situation differently. I have found that when I try to recount a presentation or a training, I attempt to list the positives first and then not dwell on where I fell short. I reflect how I could improve things, but not in a way that will destroy my confidence. Admit where we need to grow and then move on, while celebrating the positives.

    Thanks LaRae!

  5. Alli Polin says:

    Another excellent piece, LaRae! This is a lesson my husband and I are working to teach our children and one I also work with my clients to embrace. Positive self-talk doesn’t simply let us off the hook, it helps us to accept when we’ve done all we can and still fall short. My son in particular is very hard on himself in everything he does, we don’t simply tell him to snap out of it, he’s fabulous (although we’d like to think that as his parents) We are working to give him the coping skills to develop self-compassion that will fuel his personal leadership for the rest of his life.

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