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An Unexpected Act of Compassion


Leadership and compassion.  

Those two concepts are rarely linked. When we do see leaders acting with compassion, it catches us off guard. So much so, that it can actually make headlines locally, nationally, or even globally depending on the leader in question. In the case of the latter, Jacinda Audern, prime minister of New Zealand comes to mind. This is a leader who exudes compassion at every turn. The impact of her compassionate approach to leadership is to pull folks in. To draw them together. To call them forth into a space of being connected and real. Powerful stuff. 

Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to experience an example of compassionate leadership much closer to home. One of my daughter’s classmates passed away. She had been battling cancer since the fall and tragically, despite the efforts of so many, and the use of a variety of cutting-edge protocols, she lost that fight. Suffice it to say, many hearts broke that day. 

We live in a small, pretty tight-knit community. As such, the impact of moments like these can be felt everywhere you go. This young lady had school friends, church friends, soccer friends; her family is very active in the community, and the ripples of grief travelled outward until I’m pretty sure every single person in town felt the loss in some way, whether they knew her in person or not.  

During the days following her death, you could see and feel the usual acts of support. The school opened up and had a grief support team onsite to offer counseling for staff, students and friends as desired. Folks sent cards, flowers, and food directly to the family. The visitation and the funeral service were both attended by hundreds of people, all wanting to be a part of supporting and grieving together. 

These sorts of actions are common in the wake of grief, and therefore expected. 

And then, there was one act that stood apart for me. One act that was so unexpected and  unusual in our world, that I knew I would end up writing about it. In a nutshell, it was compassionate leadership in action -- and it looked like this: 

As is the case with many teenagers, this young lady had a part-time job; in her case, it was at a local large chain hardware store. I can’t remember if it was the day after she passed away, or the day after that, but at some point, I had reason to go buy something there.  

As I approached the entrance, I saw a simple sign on the door, which said something to the effect of, “please bear with us; we’ve lost one of our own this week and many of us are grieving. Thank you for your understanding.” I paused in awe, and reverence. 

I still get tears in my eyes as I recall seeing that sign. By placing that sign up, the leaders of that store chose to fully honour both the young woman who had passed away, AND the staff who had to carry on in the wake of her passing. Management chose to make it okay to grieve; there was no “please leave your personal feelings at home” malarkey. There was permission for folks to be real -- and in doing that, space was created for everyone to show up as they were, and process their experience with greater ease.  

The fact of the matter is, our lives cannot be compartmentalized. As much as we want to think in terms of our “professional” lives and “personal” lives, the truth is, we all just have whole lives. Experiences that are professional and personal butt up against one another in such a way that, if something happens in one area, another area will be impacted. It is futile to pretend otherwise. 

Compassionate leadership recognizes the juxtaposition of every aspect of our lives. It allows for folks to bring their whole selves to the table, no matter what is going on, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter the circumstance, even as we all learn to manage and navigate the accompanying challenges. 

Bottom-line: as leaders, we are better when we act with genuine compassion. This requires us to be with our teams as fellow human beings on a very human journey. Compassionate leadership invites authenticity in to the space. And such authenticity ultimately leads to greater connection, which fuels greater success.