In the month after Elon Musk triumphantly announced his takeover of Twitter with his now-famous “The Bird is Freed” tweet, he conducted a large-scale culling of the social media platform’s global workforce. While Musk’s rationale for the move was to make Twitter more efficient, how he implemented the cuts was widely criticized as a lack of compassion for employees.
Thankfully, the public has spoken out, and Musk has vowed to step down after being embarrassingly voted out in his own poll. But what can we learn from this, and what kind of leader does Twitter need to move forward?
Twitter could instead benefit from a more thoughtful and caring approach to leadership. Research shows that compassionate leaders increase employee morale and productivity, not to mention they project a more positive image of an organization and its brand to the world.
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Compassion in this context can be understood as a leader who is understanding, empathetic and strives to help their employees. This type of leadership is needed now more than ever. Businesses are facing tough times due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the rising cost of living. Britain has experienced a slump in productivity growth and a decline in living standards since the 2008 financial crisis, which will continue over the next two years. Brexit has not helped this situation.
Such testing times warrant organizational leadership by compassionate and competent people with sound judgment and effective coordination skills. This also applies to the political leadership. The UK has found a lack of this in recent months as it deals with ‘Partygate’, reported bullying and harassment in government offices and the dire impact of recent corporate governance decisions.
International leaders don’t fare much better. The US appears to have become far more polarized, leading to the Capitol riots and suffering accusations of a “guidance vacuum” during the pandemic. Compassionate leadership appears to have been in short supply in the EU due to the slow response to COVID and the energy crisis. All of these examples point to the need for more compassionate leadership.
What is a good leader?
Research shows that good leadership helps companies be more competitive and increase performance, especially when it comes to innovation and agility. One study argues that good leaders attract followers based on three main attributes: sound judgment, expertise, and coordination skills. These qualities enable leaders to lead by example.
Unfortunately, not all executives fit this bill. A recent Europe-wide study found that 13% of workers have ‘bad’ managers, although respondents tended to rate their managers worse when it came to competence than respect. Still, poor leadership can negatively impact worker morale, well-being and productivity. A review of studies in this area found that workers’ well-being tends to be better served when companies – and their managers – give workers some control and give them more opportunities to have their voices heard and participate more in decision-making.
In addition to the competency and coordination skills highlighted in much research to date, my research shows that “soft leadership skills” are also important. It’s about being compassionate and making others – especially employees, but also suppliers and customers – feel important. Leaders with such “people skills” are not only technically competent, they can also look at a problem from a human perspective and think about how it might affect people.
My recently published research used nationally representative data from the 2004 and 2011 Workplace Industrial Relations Survey, which surveyed more than 3,000 organizations and over 35,000 workers. They were asked to rate their managers on a five-point scale on specific soft leadership qualities, chosen to measure executive impartiality, trustworthiness, and empathy.
These employees were asked if their managers:
- you can count on them to keep their promises
- made genuine efforts to understand staff views
- dealt honestly with employees
- understood that employees have responsibilities outside of work
- Encouraging people to develop their skills
- employees treated fairly
- and maintained good relationships with employees.
The results suggest that employees’ perceptions of quality leadership are also positively impacted when managers are optimistic when talking about company performance. This type of leadership promotes employee well-being and helps them experience greater job satisfaction and less anxiety.
This study suggests that compassionate leaders help improve both organizational performance and employee well-being. It shows that improving leadership quality pays off. This can be achieved through the recruitment, assessment and training of leaders who enhance soft leadership skills.
Good leaders are important. As organizations and society in general face particularly difficult times, compassionate leadership could make a real difference in future business success.
Getinet Astatike Haile, Associate Professor of Industrial Economics, University of Nottingham
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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