Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves. A compassionate person feels a sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
I am lucky to be surrounded by many compassionate people. I am well-connected with educators who possess strong values, educators with big hearts. Their work as teachers and leaders is driven by their passion, their empathy and their love for what they do and the communities that they serve.
One such community I am part of is the HeadsUp network, a group of Headteachers, past and present, welcomed by James Pope, into a safe space where we emotionally hold each other. People listen, people share, people support. With face-to-face opportunities for networking cancelled, James hosts a coffee morning each Saturday so that the Headteachers can check in and connect with one another. The conversations each week are honest, vulnerable and create a shared experience.
On the HeadsUp call last weekend, James Pope made a reference to the need for ‘heart-leadership’. This phrase really struck me. I know that the French for heart is ‘coeur’ and it is the root word for courage. People follow leaders with hearts, not leaders with titles. We need courageous leaders who lead with their heart, as Jacinda Ardern does – her heart guides her head.
“Courage is a heart word. … In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds”.
According to my Google search, ‘Heart-Centered Leadership’ means having the wisdom, courage and compassion to lead others with authenticity, transparency, humility and service. Anyone can be a heart-centered leader if he or she has the determination and daily commitment to practise certain core principles.
“If you want others to be happy, practise compassion.
If you want to be happy, practise compassion”.
In the last week 3 different Headteachers/ CEOs have reached out to me, worried about their senior leaders and wanting to discuss different solutions for supporting them. These heart-centered leaders are concerned about the toll the emotional labour is taking on their teams, they fear for the impact of extended hours, remote working and reduced holiday time on their leaders wellbeing, they are worried that their staff are not having time to process and to recuperate.
“True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it”.
My response is often to check in first to find out what support they have. I strongly believe that Headteachers should have a coach and that anyone working in safeguarding should have supervision. School leaders carry everyone else’s chimps, and that weight of responsibility can be suffocating at times. Processing our emotions, and working through our load, helps us find clarity and diffuse some of the tension.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”.
I know a lot of people, teachers and non-teachers, who are highly-compassionate individuals regarding anyone they encounter, but they are not so skilled at being self-compassionate.
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising ourselves for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means we are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. We must remember that humans are not meant to be perfect. We also need to be self-aware that we are often much more forgiving of someone else’s inadequacies, than we are with ourselves.
I read a great article with 3 tips for how to practise self-compassion:
1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment: being gentle with yourself when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation: recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – we are all mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: observing our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness.
There are many leaders who are making values-based and people-centered decisions right now. There are also many leaders who are not. Compassionate leadership is the most potent way people can deal with what feels frightening and overwhelming and leaders need to focus compassion on all those who are key workers.
I was reading an article by an Executive Leader in the NHS and much of his advice really resonated so I have paraphrased it here: Belonging is fundamental to human wellbeing and the need to belong is greater during a crisis. Everyone has felt frightened and overwhelmed at different times. Our leaders need to create a positive, caring and supportive climate, they need to enable sustained multidisciplinary team-working where everyone is clear about each other’s roles. Such team-working leads to better care, better staff wellbeing and more innovation. Working flexibly, supportively and collectively across boundaries is the way forward in this crisis and for the future.
“We can’t heal the world today, but we can begin with a voice of compassion, a heart of love, and an act of kindness”.
As we head towards half-term, I hope that everyone will intentionally practise some self-compassion. A few days of being kind and gentle with yourself, intentionally practising self-care will restore energy levels and settle emotions. I hope that schools leaders and headteachers continue to model compassion to their teams and extend compassion to their communities. I hope that the Government and the Media, show some compassion to the profession and allow the teaching workforce to prioritise their own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing for the week so that as schools begin to re-open, the staff are as prepared as they can be.
“Compassion is not a virtue – it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have – it’s something we have to choose to practise”.
Courage, compassion and connection are our companions during Covid-19, but hopefully beyond as well.