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Why compassion is key to success in leadership

Develop your self compassion and build your confidence

If you want to build your confidence to be that authentic, ethical and compassionate leader in education, then a perfect place to start is developing self-compassion.

Authentic and ethical leaders are very self-aware. They are very clear on their values. They know that their impact is directly related to the quality of their relationships with those in their circle of influence. They are thoughtful and purposeful and practise compassion, and the best exercise self-compassion.

Compassionate leaders know we don’t achieve our best from a tirade of negativity. They have busted the myth that being kind to ourselves means we are weak, that criticism helps us realise our potential, to achieve our goals. They know criticism is counter-productive, that kindness and compassion are more powerful motivators than fear, that we succeed when our needs are acknowledged and we are heard, that we succeed when we realise our success is interconnected.

The problem of criticism in education

Education promotes and exacerbates the idea of ‘not good enough’, the way students, teachers and school leaders are judged, critiqued and compared to others. Just the fact that schools compete in league tables creates a critical environment.

The demands on a teacher are high and can be stressful with all the focus on accountability for what is delivered and student outcomes, with competing priorities for our time and energy. How we lead to deliver those outcomes affects the wellbeing of all those in our school.

It is in those times when we are faced with challenging behaviour or challenging events playing out right in front of us, that having strategies to ensure we can be who we are at our core rather than when our buttons are pressed, so that we can maintain compassion for our students, our team, ourselves that we reap the benefits of self-compassion.

While criticism is socially sanctioned (we even try to convince ourselves of its value through terms like ‘constructive criticism’) it truly is not helpful. Beating ourselves up doesn’t make us feel better, it makes us feel inadequate, it triggers that ‘not good enough’ thinking, and then this plays out in relationships through unkind and unhelpful behaviours.

Criticism holds us back: it hinders our personal growth as we are unwilling to reflect in case it triggers that inner critic and the resulting remorse, guilt or shame, which in turns makes us question and doubt our self-worth, which makes us give up on our goals and saps our energy making us more vulnerable to negativity. We can end up stuck in a cycle.

The benefits of self-compassion

Self compassion quoteWe can interrupt this cycle through developing self-compassion. Self-compassion allows us to let go of the need to be right and allows us to stop comparing ourselves to others. It allows us to let go of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as these judgements are unhelpful and hurtful rather than providing guidance to explore and develop a route for growth. When we develop our self-compassion, we can lead with grace, with genuine warmth and caring. It is not about giving ourselves or others permission to ignore issues, but giving ourselves and others support to do something differently. Studies show that self-compassion builds our resilience, our ability to remain calm under pressure and maintain an optimistic mindset. It supports us to handle setbacks, it empowers us to stay in our lane and allows us to remain compassionate towards those around us. Research has shown that people who are self-compassionate are less likely to feel humiliated or incompetent, or to take criticism too personally. Equally they are less dependent on praise for that feel good factor as their motivation is intrinsic.

What is compassion?

Compassion is associated with patience, empathy and sympathy, showing kindness and coming from a place of love. It is a recognition of and respect for what others are experiencing in that moment and what they need in order to be the best version of themselves.

Self-compassion is accepting ourselves for who we are, without comparing ourselves to others, without the need to be perfect. It requires we be kind to ourselves and honour ourselves through understanding, rather than being harsh and judgemental. It requires we pay attention to ourselves, be mindful to what and how we are feeling, and it requires we recognise our common humanity rather than feeling we are on our own and isolated. When we practise it and develop it, it is a powerful tool to support happiness as it helps us break free from negative thinking and behaviour patterns and build quality connections with others.

Self-compassion allows us to flourish, It is a mechanism we can build on the good days to support us on the bad days, reframing ‘bad’ and lessening the impact of those difficult days. Studies show that self compassion is clearly associated with feelings of self-worth, thus it will grow our confidence to seek a leadership role or support us in our decisions when we are in a leadership role. Self-compassion supports us to learn from feedback seeing it as our teacher rather than as failure or criticism and therefore supports our resilience and our success.

How do I develop more self-compassion?

  1. Know your triggers:
  • what sets you off on a behaviour path that does not make you feel good,
  • what makes you react with unkind thoughts or remarks
  • when you go on the defensive,
  • when your inner voice starts belittling or criticising you
  • when you lose compassion, for yourself or others.
  1. Develop clarity of who you are as a leader with these questions:
  • Who are you when you are leading?
  • What image do you project?
  • What environment do you create?
  • What are your beliefs and your values?
  • And how do you live those beliefs and values every day?
  1. Use the NLP technique of perceptual positions to advise yourself and develop as a leader when you experience a situation that challenges you or disrupts your feeling of wellbeing. This technique requires we disassociate from ourselves and look at the situation from the perspective of another person in the situation and also from the point of view of an ‘expert’ or a ‘fly on the wall’. This disassociation allows us to trigger our compassion circuitry and start to redirect our thinking and beliefs and create a new identity that is alignment with our values. Research in the field of neuroplasticity confirms that practices like this that rewire your brain help make building new habits easier as what we think and what we pay attention to changes the structures and functions of our brain.
  1. Build a positive anchor to be able to access an empowered state at any moment in time. You could place items in your environment that when you look at them, it takes you to a state that is helpful to you and allows you to return to that place of compassion.
  1. Read my linked blog – How to quieten your inner critic
  1. Dr Kristin Neff is the leading researcher in the field of self-compassion and has developed exercises to help you build yours. https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises

I can help you with either of these techniques when you book an Empower Hour or coaching package with me.

Or email me and register interest in NLP Practitioner training when you can learn other tools and techniques to empower you on your leadership journey and I will let you know when I am running my next event.

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