20 Feb Leadership and Compassion in Action
Battlegrounds and Reconciliation
Recently I was in a coaching conversation with a teacher, a head of department, who was describing his latest difficulty: his headteacher was monitoring and measuring what she called the battle with someone in the department, someone she saw as failing, and she was threatening to bring in the heavy guns unless results improved before it was too late.
I asked him to describe the situation from some different perspectives: How was it for the students? How was it for the teacher? And how was it for him?
Where the headteacher saw battles, failure and the threat of heavy guns, the department leader felt helpless, wanted to support and spoke of reconciliation.
He could see that one of his team needed support, that the headteacher’s approach wasn’t helping and he couldn’t see how to reconcile the two. He felt helpless.
We discussed the idea of recognising and accepting that we cannot ‘fix’ every situation but that we can support each other through the hardest of times and the most difficult conversations without resorting to blame, anger or recriminations. That this is a way of creating new possibilities for everyone.
This practice of non-judgmental acceptance is one aspect of Compassion-in-Action – an InterBe Leadership programme. It is a way of being and leading at work, and in life, that is fundamental to every relationship, interaction and communication. It is how we bring kindness, care and attention to our response even in difficult circumstances.
We explored the headteacher’s perspective. It was no surprise to learn that she came from a military background. What was more surprising to this hard-working and compassionate teacher was the realisation that ‘big guns’ might be affecting the headteacher too. And that she probably had other things going on in her life that needed improvement before it was ‘too late’.
We can’t fix every problem and we definitely can’t fix other people’s lives. But we can choose our response to each, from a place of acceptance and compassion, and when we do so it will make a difference and this in turn helps us see that we are not helpless. We can make a difference.
Making a difference
This conversation did make a difference. The department leader told me that he was going to respond to his headteacher differently, that now he could see ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’ and felt hopeful. It was a small difference but it made something new possible.
I know, from conversations with nurses, doctors, business leaders, carers and parents, that similar struggles can occur, in many different contexts, in all of our lives. The more we practice this kind of choice in our thoughts and responses the more responsibility we are taking for the small changes that encourage compassion in our lives and the lives of those around us.