The corporate world is known for allowing only, the fittest to survive. In pursuing this inhuman, rather animalistic, policy, it makes no bones of either regret or put on offer any apology, to any. This is truer of institutions that emerge from across the Atlantic. These corporates train their staff, managers and leaders to shun themselves of any human emotions, so that they can deal with colleagues / teams, in a ruthless manner. Their typical mantra is, “lean and mean” management; where on display is more of meanness and very less, if not totally absent, any humane considerations.
The advent and recognition of management practices of the east (read Orient), starting from Japan in North East Asia to South East Asian nations, in the decade of eighties and nineties, has brought about some sanity in the corporate circles of Europe and America. Concepts like Kaizen have been willingly and wholesomely adopted by many of their manufacturing concerns. Today the management gurus and scientists of the west, in their research and books have exhaustive chapters on ‘humility’, sharing, caring, etc; concepts that had post industrialisation taken a backseat in their corporate corridors. The exceptions were far and few. The rule being, abilities shall prevail upon needs. The human factor stood expunged. Guillotine the employee who fails to serve the major corporate purposes of creating more and more profits for the organisation. An amazing case of material trade off to the effort made, took shape, in the form of monetary rewards, like exorbitant bonuses, vulgar perks, etc.
Often, one finds managers who are not even concerned on how to handle bereavement in the family of a colleague. While most do not bother to offer any words of comfort or sympathy, some do with disgusting callousness. Once a very senior colleague of mine, at a time when both of us were working overseas, in a Pakistan management set up, looked extremely down and out, he was literally in the lowest depths of the pit. I asked him, why are you so morose? (I knew, he had lost his beloved Mother, couple of weeks earlier). His teary eyed response tore through my cardiac chords, said he, “I bumped into the MD, (numero uno of the entity), in the corridors, and he, very casually said, “O’ sorry to hear your mom passed away, but hey! Where are we now in terms of the business budget numbers vis a vis target for the quarter?...” Before I could mumble a reply, he walked away towards his majestic chambers”. I was aghast, but to the colleague I pretended, that nothing ill was intentioned; a sympathetic response would have added to his already woeful self, instead I said, may be the MD was mentally preoccupied. Seeing his expressions, conveyed by his face and eyes, to my positive spin, I sensed that he completely refused to accept my logic, which truly was a put on..! If you, or us, as leaders / managers do not have strong emotional quotient, then colleagues will not only harbour and nurture ill will, but also their productivity alongside will take dive southwards.
“Compassion for me is just what the word says; it is “suffering with”. It is an immediate participation in the suffering of another to such a degree that you forget yourself and your own safety and spontaneously do what is necessary” (Joseph Campbell). There can be endless debate on what provokes greater creativity and productivity; competition or cooperation? While the case can be argued both ways, it is a historical and empirically proven thought that the human spirit responds faster to the sublime spirit of cooperation than competition. The many successes of human pursuit, be it in any field of study, are a consequence of the cooperative spirit. Competition certainly spurs individual action, but success can only arrive through cooperation. No single individual can be crowned for say, the landing on the Moon. The famous remark of Neil Armstrong, “a small step, but a giant leap for mankind” had at its back, years of research, sweat, toil and hard work of hundreds of people at NASA. Cooperation can only emerge in an environment of compassion and not ruthlessness.
A parable attributed to Moses (veracity and authenticity is not known, but has a powerful underlying message). It is said Moses was told divinely, that his people will face a long period of famine. He informed them. In reaction, the people made large holes in the perimeter walls of their houses, so that, in case of any emergency with any neighbours, assistance could be provided expeditiously. The famine never came. Moses, out of curiosity asked God, that the famine didn't happen, although he was told, divinely. God said, Moses when your people are so compassionate towards each other, why would The Most Compassionate, test such people with famine. It follows, show compassion towards fellow humans and The Lord holds out His Mercies.
Neuroscientists, physicians and surgeons, argue that to get negative sentiments activated, the human brain has to be taxed, while the positive moral response requires, no efforts; because the human mind (the condition of the brain being of a human is critical, here), generally or mostly is blessed with some spirituality and divine spirit of reacting positively
In a compelling book, on compassion, Dr Christopher L Kukk, talks about the fact that even in the world of espionage and enhanced interrogation techniques (torture is the word), compassion pays more dividends; compassion triumphs ruthlessness. Any spy caught, spills beans easily through compassion than torture, he asserts, based on his conversations with global agencies.
Sympathy, empathy and compassion are many times confused as being synonymous in meaning. They are inter-related but very distinct from each other. Sympathy means, having feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune; empathy means, having the ability to understand and share the feelings of another; and compassion, very simply is, “suffering together”. Leaders and managers must have the emotions to suffer together with their teams. Anything less would render their leadership status to one of unwilling allegiance.
This writer had the unique pleasure to work in an organisation, whose corporate purpose was enshrined in the declaration like, “service to humanity, giving, moral purpose to profit, etc”. Hence I witnessed first-hand the amazing quality and power of commitment of the staff, across the rank and file of the organisation, in that multi-national, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic and multi-religious environment.
The diversity was glued into togetherness through the medium of caring and compassionate nature of all towards all; there were no exceptions. The ones who chose to be the exceptions, the system, which was strongly embedded and anchored in the humane-oriented management concepts, without a ruckus or whimper, would very quickly be side-lined to the benches of spectators. They were off the field, no red or yellow card was flashed. But the well-oiled system operated seamlessly.
As a supervisor, my experience convinces me beyond any iota or shadow of doubt, that an attitude of compassion yields greater productivity. It also ushers into the entity a feeling of belongingness between all constituents. Colleagues who are dealt with kindness put on extra effort, than is demanded or expected of them; the sense of ownership becomes the impetus to go beyond the call of duty. This is delivered without any costs. I have seen so many examples of this paradigm; unfortunately have also seen the flip side of it, where the most committed staff was side-lined by way of misbehaving and callous demeanour, on an institutional basis, by the senior management, who has the singular responsibility to steer and guide the corporate culture of the entity.
The alternate slogan to the animalistic exhortation of the fit to survive, could be “survival of the compassionate”. Neuroscientists, physicians and surgeons, argue that to get negative sentiments activated, the human brain has to be taxed, while the positive moral response requires, no efforts; because the human mind (the condition of the brain being of a human is critical, here), generally or mostly is blessed with some spirituality and divine spirit of reacting positively. Compassion is natural; unkindness is always an acquired trait.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, once remarked, “compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation... if you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!” Mere verbosity or making statements on the well framed corporate values, missions and visions, is insufficient. The management must walk the talk. The organisation that I cited in the earlier paragraphs practiced vehemently what it preached or held as a noble objective. Expediency to make such claims of being a compassionate organisation has a short life, the veneer is very thin, and the ugly interior of such management opportunists wears off in speed.
Compassion as a trait in a manager / leader’s character lends him with a very soft disposition; and amazingly it makes up for an extremely strong leadership. Politeness in conversation, which is adequately backed up by compassionate deeds, when required, does not in any manner reflect corporate meekness or weakness. Instead it instils and fortifies the feelings of camaraderie between colleagues, who once joined by the spirit of cooperation, deliver far superior results, than they would, if they were exhorted to engage in “cut- throat competition” (repulsive phrase, but used extensively and immorally).
While most leaders and managers know how easy it is to go into a rage, or fit of anger, or lose shirt in full public view, or show affection or demonstrate concern; the decision to remain gentle and compassionate demands courage and steely strength. Having compassion as a defining trait is easy, because it is a natural endowment, anything to the contrary is akin to going against the noble human orientation.
Managers ought to be “humans” first, and possibly last, too.
The writer is a senior banker