Here’s a scenario. You have a friend. Every time your friend makes a mistake, you point it out to her: “I can’t believe you did that again! What a moron!” Then if she wants to try something new, you say to her, “Well, not sure you’ll really make it. Remember you failed the last hundred times you tried something new.” How long would this friend stick around? Yet, do we stop to think how often we say these words to ourselves? And no, I’m not listening into your mind. I’m just listening into mine! Self-compassion is about being your own best friend, befriending who you are now, in this moment, with all your faults and failures. And there is new scientific research that shows it can make you a better leader. Read on to discover how, and some leadership practices we can all do to help us be more self-compassionate.
I recently read a fascinating interview with Kristin Neff, author of the book “Self-Compassion.” In her interview she describes self-compassion as having three core components: kindness toward yourself when you fail, a willingness to accept imperfections in yourself, and mindfulness in being aware of when you need to stop and practice compassion toward yourself. One of the biggest barriers to self-compassion is our misguided belief that being kind to ourselves will make us fat, happy, and complacent. The research actually suggests that self-criticism actually undermines our ability to meet our goals.
Here are five ways why self-compassion can make us better leaders:
1. You expand in your ability to be self-aware. If you’re going to beat yourself up every time you discover a weakness, well, guess what. Your very smart unconscious mind will work very hard to keep your weaknesses hidden from you. Your first inclination is to blame others when something goes wrong rather than accepting accountability for your mistakes. Practicing self-compassion allows you to be self-aware and accountable because you’re not beating yourself up every time you discover that you really can’t be President of the United States, Ms. Universe, and the Olympic gold winner in the 30-meter dash all on the same day.
2. You expand in your ability to connect with others. A key component of self-compassion is the ability to accept imperfection in yourself. The ability to accept imperfection in yourself helps you be more vulnerable and this ability to be vulnerable helps you connect with others. Our imperfections connect us to others as we are able to allow others to also be imperfect, versus judging them for their imperfections. In recognizing our strengths and our weaknesses, we can look for others who can complement our skill sets. It’s the reason why teams need diversity of strengths, thinking, and experiences.
3. You expand in your ability to be resilient from failure. One of my favorite tongue-in-cheek sayings is “The flogging will continue until morale improves”. Well that’s how we often treat ourselves when we fail. We beat ourselves up. And then we wonder why we’re so afraid to take risks or push ourselves outside of our comforts zones. All growth lies outside our comfort zones and our very ability to bounce back from failure, to take risks, to try again, is dependent upon our willingness to be kind to ourselves when we fail.
4. You expand in your ability to learn and grow. In the article, Kristin Neff talks about the difference between “learning goals” versus “performance goals.” People who are self-compassionate want learning for its own sake. Research shows the most sustainable way to learn and grow is to learn for the sake of learning vs. for the sake of impressing others.
5. You expand in your sense of well-being, optimism and happiness.As leaders our sense of optimism, our energy and focus are infectious. We are not only able to experience a better sense of well-being and self-worth (regardless of outcomes) ourselves, but also create environments that promote this culture.
Kristin Neff’s research actually shows that we can grow in our ability to be self-compassionate. Here’s a test to take to see how self-compassionate you are. Will you first promise to be kind to yourself when you get the results?
Here are three leadership practices to try to grow in your self-compassion. Kristin Neff’s book has a lot more and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to delve deeper into the topic.
1. Journaling. I recommend journaling to my executive coaching clients. In your journal, write down all the situations you experience where self-compassion would serve you. That way you will be more mindful of when these situations occur and you can put self-compassion into practice. You can also journal about when you’ve successfully practiced self-compassion. It will reinforce the habit.
2. Exercises in Self-Compassion. Here’s a link to some exercises Kristin Neff recommends on self-compassion. And if you want to track your progress on improving self-compassion, here’s an excellent article and tracking sheet from the Happier Human blog.
3. Meditations. – Here is a link to Kristin Neff’s guided meditation practices.
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How I used self-compassion when experiencing failure: “Leadership Lessons in How to Fail Well”
Harvard Business Review article by Heidi Halvorson: “To Succeed Forget Self-Esteem“