Do you like to show compassion to others and struggle with holding them accountable for their actions and results? Or, are you comfortable holding people accountable and struggle to show compassion?
My guess is that you answered “yes” to one of the questions above and “no” to the other. The balance between these two apparently contradictory perspectives is a struggle that nearly every leader must confront.
Two apparently contradictory perspectives or statements create a paradox. They appear to be contradictory, and they are both true at the same time.
As a leader, you must be compassionate AND you must hold people accountable. It is a paradox; and living with and managing paradoxical situations is, in many ways, a core competency of effective leaders. Becoming a great leader will require you to work in apparently contradictory ways that are nonetheless true.
New leaders often wrestle with these issues because they present themselves as extreme, opposing positions that cannot be reconciled. They then fail to appropriately manage living with the paradox because they do not really understand the two extremes. As a result, they see the two perspectives as either/or positions rather than both/and positions.
People who are comfortable with accountability often view compassion as too “soft”. And, people who are comfortable with compassion often view accountability as too “hard”. The truth is that neither extreme is either “soft” or “hard”. They are simply different responses to different leadership situations.
Let’s consider the definitions of these two responses:
Compassion – deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.
Accountability – the condition of being called to account; answerable.
As a leader, you do need to be aware of people’s needs and work to meet them – you need to be compassionate. You also must call people to account if they fall short of achieving desired objectives that meet an organizational need – you must hold people accountable.
If you have no concern for the emotional needs of people, you will drive good people away. If you fail to hold people accountable, the organization will eventually fail and everyone loses.
Learning to live with this paradox is an ongoing exercise in self-awareness and growth. Here are three suggestions to help you learn how to manage this paradox more successfully…
- Assess yourself objectively. Do you tend to be more compassionate and forgiving or do you quickly dismiss people and their concerns in the interest of achieving results? Neither perspective is inherently bad or wrong. Always falling to one extreme or the other without achieving balance can become bad though. This first suggestion simply becomes: know yourself. One way to do that is to take a behavioral or personality style assessment to get objective feedback.
- Get feedback and perspective from others. When you face a situation that brings these two extreme positions into play, discuss it with another person. Ideally, you can discuss it with someone who has the perspective that is most difficult for you. Talk through your options for handling the situation with your trusted advisor/mentor until you find an approach that best balances the two extremes in the specific situation.
- Reflect on the final outcome. Was it a good outcome or a bad outcome? Look for lessons learned that you can apply the next time you encounter similar situations.
Whatever your bent, I encourage you to look at your behaviors as a leader. Are you more comfortable with compassion or with accountability? Either way, work to develop comfort with the other approach. When learn to choose your response based on the situation rather than on your personal comfort, you will be skilled at living with the paradox between compassion and accountability.
And you will be one step closer to acting as a Remarkable Leader.