What Is Compassionate Accountability®?
In all the years I’ve worked with leaders, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do you balance kindness, care and concern with attention to outcomes?” Compassionate Accountability® is what they are seeking, but they can’t imagine how it’s possible.
Many leadership experts have written about this challenge, framed in a variety of ways:
People vs Tasks
Process vs Content
Relationships vs Standards
Doug Conant, internationally known business leader, best-selling author and the CEO who turned around a failing Campbell’s Soup company, described the challenge as being “tender-hearted with people, tough-minded with standards.” Listen to my interview interview with Doug on my podcast.
The Compassion – Accountability Continuum
However you conceptualize the challenge, people tend toward one end of the continuum or the other, often influenced by personality and past experiences.
Dr. Rob McKenna, IO psychologist and author of the book, Composed: The Art And Science of Leading Under Pressure, describes Peace-Keepers as those who tend toward the compassion end of the spectrum, often compromising to keep the peace in the spirit of being nice. Truth-Speakers, on the other hand, tend toward direct confrontation, telling it like it is. Each has value, but but nobody can be fully effective as a leader without doing both well.
Compromising or overdoing either one has predictable negative consequences.
Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated.
Compassion Without Accountability
- Believes listening, consensus, and empathy are sufficient motivators of behavior.
- Avoids asking directly for things.
- Views confronting negative behavior as uncaring and mean.
- Common philosophy includes, “Be nice,” “Don’t hurt other people’s feelings,” “Put yourself in her shoes,” “Don’t raise your voice.”
- Results in poor follow-through, low confidence that goals will be accomplished, and a leader who is liked but not respected.
- Agreement without commitment.
Accountability Without Compassion
- Believes rules, consequences, and expectations are sufficient motivators of behavior.
- Avoids listening.
- Views empathy as a sign of weakness.
- Common philosophy includes, “Failure is not an option,” “High expectations are necessary,” “Sometimes you have to show them who’s boss.”
- Results in low morale and trust, and a leader who is feared but not respected.
- Compliance without loyalty.
There’s a third way. Compassionate Accountability. Embracing both in full measure is possible and can be transformative. Check out my second book, Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability.
But doing this requires a re-imagined understanding and practice of compassion. The root of the problem lies in how most people understand compassion. Since publishing Conflict Without Casualties in 2017, we’ve discovered six common myths that interfere with leaders’ ability to reconcile relationships with outcomes. Behind each myth is a reality that can unlock a fuller understanding and practice of compassion in your life.
Six Myths About Compassion That Could Be Holding You Back
Myth #1: Compassion is empathy in action
Myth #2: Compassion is about alleviating suffering
The reality is, compassion comes from the Latin root meaning “to suffer or struggle with.” Leaders who struggle with their people through difficult situations foster greater connection, trust, and empowerment than those who swoop in and rescue.
Myth #3: Compassion is for selfless servant leaders
Leaders who practice self-less compassion are headed for burnout. The reality is, compassion is the practice of demonstrating that people as valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction. That includes you. Everyone can can do this.
Myth #4: Some people just have it
The reality is, compassion is in each of us and can be developed. Our outcomes research proves that people can learn and practice compassion and experience dramatic positive results, regardless of their background, past habits, or innate conflict style. Here are some compassion tips from the Dalai Lama.
Myth #5: Compassion is soft
Anyone who’s experienced our training on The Compassion Cycle and practiced ORPO, the formula for compassionate conflict, will tell you that it’s neither soft, nor easy. Compassion requires bravery to be vulnerable, confidence to set aside your own ego, and courage to walk the talk. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Myth #6: Compassion and accountability are opposites
The reality is, real compassion doesn’t compromise one for the other. Compassion implies and requires accountability. Once you correct the first five myths, the real potential in compassion becomes clear.
What Is Compassionate Accountability?
The main message of Compassionate Accountability is that the struggle is real, the struggle isn’t going away, and that by changing HOW we struggle, we can change the world inside us and around us. There are three ways to struggle with others toward something better.
- Openness to one’s own and others’ feelings, needs, and wants – validates emotions without commiserating or discounting.
- Resourcefulness around problem-solving – curiously explores possibilities without taking over responsibility for the solution.
- Persistence around commitments, goals, and boundaries – without threats, ultimatums, or implicit expectations.
When you change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. – Albert Einstein