Uncertainty is here to stay. The nature of an ever-changing world where the pace of change is accelerating means we cannot predict or control the future. So how do you successfully navigate this terrain without getting stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted?
The answer is to change the way you lead yourself, before you change the way you lead others. This change starts with self-compassion.
The problem with comparison
Increasingly in organisational life, there is a misgiving that no matter how hard I try to improve, change or learn, other people always appear to be better than me. Other people are faster, smarter, have more experience, network better, manage their stakeholders, deliver better results and lead their teams in ways that I cannot replicate.
In our need to feel special in a culture where good is not valued, we may feel a strong pull towards comparing ourselves favourably against our peers and putting their ability, skills and personal attributes down. Psychologists call this self-enhancement bias, where you need to feel better than others.
This competitive culture has gained momentum over the past few decades and, according to Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, has propelled a narcissism epidemic. In her book, she quotes a study of 15,000 US college students conducted over 20 years which found a direct link between self-esteem and narcissism (an inflated sense of self-importance). Interestingly, over the same period, levels of self-esteem grew by a much greater margin.
“If we want to upgrade the quality of our leaders, we need to stop falling for people who are overconfident, charismatic and even narcissistic, and select people on traits such as humility, integrity and competence, rather than confidence.” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Talent Scientist, ManpowerGroup
Clearly, leaders need a certain level of self-esteem to have the confidence to tackle the challenges of leading a team and business and progressing their careers. However, there is a big difference between self-esteem and self-compassion.
What is self-compassion?
Self-esteem is how we evaluate ourselves (positively or negatively) when compared to others. This definition uses external measures, which means your self-esteem is dependent on the behavioural standards and values of others. In contrast, self-compassion involves no comparisons, judgements or evaluations.
Self-compassion is a consistent way of relating to yourself with kindness and acceptance, (as you would talk to a friend that was discussing their failings with you); acknowledging that you will make mistakes, and then allowing yourself to learn from them by taking action to improve and change towards your vision of leadership and peak performance.
I believe there are three critical elements of self-compassion:
- Mindfulness – consciously seeing and feeling what is truly happening and accepting your experience, “warts and all”, without wishing it were different
- Loving-kindness – holding yourself with tender care, the way you would support a close friend who was experiencing emotional or physical pain
- Action – taking the steps to change, which are grounded in self-care and growing towards your vision of leadership, rather than a critical or comparison-based approach
The benefits of self-compassion
The scientifically proven benefits of compassion are demonstrated by the work of Dr Kristen Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, University of Texas. Neff’s research found that self-compassion:
- Improves your resilience to stress, recovery from painful experiences and provides greater emotional resilience
- Increases optimism and wellbeing
- Reduces stress and anger
- Improves self-worth, the belief and recognition that we are intrinsically valuable and worthy of love and success
- Allows a more accurate (realistic) assessment of our strengths and weaknesses
Self-compassion allows you to remain centred and calm during periods of volatility, change and uncertainty. It allows you to be grounded in the knowledge that even though you don’t have the answers, you know you can lead yourself, your team and your business through the winds of change.
The last 12 months have shown the world how unpredictable our future is. What has worked in the past will not work in the future. Having the capacity to see what is actually happening, respond with compassion and take active steps to change will make you stand out as a leader.
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