Self-Compassion Will Make You a Better Leader

It’s understandable for leaders to get caught up in fear, doubt and criticism when facing business decisions that will affect lives and livelihoods. What’s needed in times of uncertainty and disruption is mental clarity, emotional balance, fortitude and vision. To move from self-doubt and paralysis to clarity and action, you need one important skill: self-compassion. Based on our experience training tens of thousands of leaders on the role of self-compassion in emotional intelligence and effective leadership, we’d like to share some key tips and techniques for cultivating this critical skill.

The easiest place to start is with a five- to 20-second exercise that can be integrated into your day: Take three deep breaths and, with each breath, think three subsequent thoughts, each connected to one of the core elements of self-compassion:

MINDFULNESS: “This is hard right now” or “I’m feeling tense.” By being aware of, but not overwhelmed by, your own emotions, you’re able to make decisions with more clarity and wisdom.

COMMON HUMANITY: “I’m not alone; other leaders are facing similar challenges.” Recognizing that you’re not alone supports your well-being and helps you consider the people potentially affected by your actions.

SELF-KINDNESS: “May I be kind to myself as I face this challenge?” Treating yourself well is essential for your own motivation and your capacity to help others.

Spending somewhere between five and 10 minutes each day meditating on self-compassion will make a big difference. As we know from research on neuroplasticity, dedicating time regularly to build the capacity for self-compassion trains the brain to incline toward self-kindness, making it an easier and more habitual response when things are tough.

You can make a guided meditation (such as a nine-minute one) part of your morning routine or integrate it into a lunch break or the end of your work day. If you notice there are moments throughout the day when you’re beating yourself up, you can try a shorter meditation as well.

Students in a comparison study who exercised self-compassion through writing reported a greater motivation to change and a greater desire to address weaknesses, and exhibited higher effort to improve overall.

Try this exercise to shift similarly your mindset. Draft an encouraging letter to yourself from your inner compassionate voice, answering these questions: What would your inner mentor say about the challenges you’re facing? What might he suggest and how would he encourage you? What would you tell a friend who is struggling with a similar situation?

Then read your letter and notice if you feel a greater sense of openness toward your challenges. You might also revisit it in the future, bringing your encouraging words back when you need them.

As we face a world that’s more uncertain than ever, we need leaders who look for common humanity with their employees, customers and stakeholders. We need leaders who connect and uplift others, and this starts by exercising kindness toward ourselves.

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