Compassion and Power Can Coexist in Successful Leaders

Can power be a source of compassion? We’re so used to seeing bad behavior from people in power we’ve forgotten that real leaders also serve their subordinates. This is one of the reasons the Faas Foundation is partnering with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence on the Emotion Revolution in the Workplace study—to help leaders use the tools of emotional intelligence to create psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces.

An insightful article in the New York Times, “When Power Makes Leaders More Sensitive,” by Matthew Hutson explores how leaders might avoid power’s often corrupting influence and instead become more sensitive to the needs of their employees.  According to recent studies, the key seems to be seeing power not as permission to do whatever you want, but rather as responsibility to take care of others.

There are ways to influence those in power to adopt the latter view, including reflecting on the use of power, being held accountable for the use of power, observing the generosity of other leaders, and having a feeling of belonging to the group. All of these factors take into account emotional intelligence, which can help leaders be kinder, more socially skilled and make more ethical decisions.

While I too often have to call out wrongdoers, power can also be a source of service and compassion. Former President Barack Obama comes to mind. And there is the work of TDIndustries in Dallas as well as the Conscious Capitalism movement. They prove that productivity and profitability aren’t in direct conflict taking care of your stakeholders.  They prove that business can be humane—and still flourish.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Illustration credit: BIGSTOCK