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Recognition in The Real World
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Leading With Compassion: Living Above the Line by Dr. Brad Shuck

Posted By Ava Ewald, Thursday, July 2, 2020
Updated: Thursday, July 2, 2020

By Dr. Brad Shuck

Associate Professor and Research Director of the Human Resource and and Organizational Development Program, University of Louisville


Living Above the Line


Everything seems different right now. Because, in many ways, in the span of a few days and weeks, everything changed. And this change calls for a different kind of leadership. Right now, more than ever, we need to be leaders who lead with compassion. To help understand what this looks like, I’ve developed a framework to clearly show the six defined behaviors of compassionate, courageous leaders. We call living into those behaviors living ‘above the line.’ Those six behaviors include: dignity, authenticity, presence, accountability, empathy and integrity. The behaviors below the line — humiliation, insincerity, distractedness, avoidance, detachment and dishonesty represent dysfunctional behaviors – behaviors that are ultimately destructive to your culture and company. It, of course, takes courage to live above the line and lead with compassion, especially when everything feels different. In times of stress and chaos, it might feel easy to operate below the line and be distracted and detached, for example, especially when we are faced with obstacles we’ve never experienced before. But, living here – below the line – can create more problems that build over time and have a cost in the long term. The surprising truth about this model is that it applies to our situation today more than ever. And it doesn’t cost any money to lead with the behaviors that are above the line. It is 100% free to be authentic. Authenticity right now might sound like, “I don’t know what may happen in the next couple of weeks, but here’s what I do know. Today, we're in this together.



We’re in unprecedented times, but it is the unprecedented times that bring out the most innovation and creativity. This current situation can help us thrive.” These behaviors will not work if you don’t put them into action. You can’t just have dignity and authenticity; you have to display it to others. You have to give it away. That may mean having a very difficult conversation with someone right now and focusing on coming from a place of dignity and empathy — allowing that person to maintain their sense of worth and trying to see each situation from their point of view, without judgment. This is game changing. And like most things worth pursuing, this takes time, energy and capacity. Running over capacity over long periods of time as a leader takes a toll in the way we interact with other people. Generally, living and leading from a place of overcapacity leads to frustration. Frustration is a cognitive bias we use to make a decision in the moment when we don’t have the mental capacity to think about something. What we see is frustration but what is happening can feel overwhelming emotionally. And frustration – the currency of too much going on around us – can trigger a loss of control.


So how can we lead with compassion and ensure we stay above the line?


1. Establish new routines and rituals. The way to add capacity back into your day is to build in routines that in turn increase mental and emotional capacity. Routines allow us to pay attention to the bigger picture, not the small things that can become routine. Rather than give in to the distraction and noise around you, focus on casting the larger vision and inspiring through people.


2. Display predictable behaviors. Predictability helps to build capacity back into your day because you don’t have to worry about other things that are now part of your established routine. You now can direct that energy to more important issues. An example of the importance of predictability is how you communicate. Right now, your team is looking for steady, calm, intentional communication. In the midst of this crisis, communication and collaboration are the heartbeat of your culture. If your team knows what to expect, they will feel more empowered to establish a stronger trust with you and with each other.


3. Inspire to the priorities. Clearly articulate the priorities to the team so they feel confident in the direction. What are the three things we need to do today? What big rocks do we need to move and how do I as a leader inspire that direction? Define milestones and project check-ins.


4. Connect the work to your mission. Use storytelling as a way to show how work continues to be incredibly meaningful. Tie projects and tasks back to the mission so your team understands and is excited by the work they are creating. Even in a remote setting, they will feel connected.


There is no template for how to lead during an unprecedented time. Compassion provides a guiding framework to use as a map. And compassionate leadership gives us a guide for what great leadership can look like and how we can be extraordinarily effective. As leaders, we get to define how work will be done in the future – the challenge is to make sure we set the opportunity now by leading above the line.

Tags:  compassion  recognition 

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Leading With Compassion: Share Your Umbrella by Dr. Brad Shuck

Posted By Ava Ewald, Thursday, July 2, 2020
Updated: Thursday, July 2, 2020
By Dr. Brad Shuck 

Associate Professor and Program Director of the Human Resource and Organizational Development program, University of Louisville


There’s no question that almost everything right now is being handled differently. How we lead is no exception. The traditional way of leading starts by sharing a plan, which is followed by directing the execution of that plan. But truthfully, plans right now sound like noise. The leaders we need right now are showing up with a different set of skills. We call that skill set compassionate leadership. I believe the companies that are doing it right start by leading with compassion, then they inspire with a plan. 

What does leading with compassion look like? Compassion is grounded in three easy and often overlooked principles that help us understand how to lead differently right now: 

Compassion is totally undeserved; 

Compassion requires relentless commitment; and, 

Compassion comes from a place of unselfish humility. 

Principle 1: totally undeserved 

Let’s start with the analogy of an umbrella. 

You may have had an experience where you’ve been walking down the street in the rain and saw somebody else walking who is getting soaked. It’s raining like crazy and you have an umbrella. So, you decide to come alongside them and share your umbrella. That’s compassion. There is no judgment with the action. You don’t scold the poor wet person because they didn’t have an umbrella. “You didn’t check the weather today? Everybody has access to this information; why didn’t you plan ahead?” or “What’s wrong with you?” Rather, you simply extend and share your umbrella. You help the person in need — not because they earned it, but because they need it. That’s compassion. 

This illustrates what is different about our current situation. This is the time to simply show up and share your umbrella, whatever that is and whatever it looks like. Just share it. In a business context, sharing your umbrella could be about noticing someone who is struggling with a project or is simply overwhelmed.  

Principle 2: relentless commitment

Let’s continue with the ‘sharing your umbrella’ strategy and talk about relentless commitment. Imagine you are walking down the road and see someone who needs an umbrella. Rather than turning around and walking away, ducking out of sight or going in a different direction, you actively pursue the person and offer to share your umbrella. That’s relentless commitment. Essentially your actions say, “Let me help you; let me shield you; let me support you here in the moment.” It is about leading with a sense of relentless and committed pursuit. The alternative leadership style is fragile, transactional and judgmental. Compassionate leadership is judgment-free and more importantly, transformational. 

Principle 3: unselfish humility 

The third principle of compassionate leadership is unselfish humility. It means putting others first. Maybe there isn’t enough space under the umbrella, so your shoulder gets a little bit wet. Maybe in your pursuit, your socks get soaked. No problem. Socks dry. This is all about putting others oftentimes before ourselves. It’s about taking responsibility and stepping into the gap. Every single day there’s a new opportunity to put out a fire, to do something different, to pivot, to move, to change, to modify, and we need leaders who will step into that gap. That is an unselfish humility. It is about serving and being in service to others.

But what happens when you share your umbrella, you pursue that person, and you find out they actually like walking in the rain. Getting wet is a choice they want to make. That is okay. Compassion does not require a reaction, only action. Extending the offer is the compassion and then we empower others around us to make their own choice. Some will duck quickly under your umbrella, relieved they are no longer alone. Others may say thank you and choose a different path forward. Both are perfectly okay. That choice is theirs to make and at the end of the day, that’s an acceptable and judgment-free choice. But don’t miss that extending the offer lets them know you’re available for them. Sometimes simply letting people know they’re invited into the conversation means as much as being part of the conversation. Our view of compassionate leadership provides a framework that has the potential to transform the lives of the people who work on our teams and in our organizations. How we do things as a business during this time will be forgotten, but the way in which we lead will define our legacy for generations to come. It begins with acts of compassion.

Tags:  7 Best Practices  compassion  umbrella 

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