Competence without Compassion

Competence without compassion leads to criticism and mediocre effort

Competence is generally consider a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge, cognitive skills, behavior and values that determine whether an individual can properly perform a specific job.  The more of these you have, theoretically, the better you perform.  We all want to be considered competent.  If you would ever hear the phrase, “I am concerned with your specific competence to perform this job,” during a year-end performance review, you immediately would become concerned.  So, we all want to be competent and should be working to enhance those attributes that enhance it.

As leaders, we all want our team members to view us as competent.  When you demonstrate at least a minimal amount of competence, you have a greater ability to gauge ideas, establish priorities, and work collaboratively with team members.  However, do you feel that the leader must always be the most competent or most knowledgeable person on the team?  I hope your answer is “no.”  As an example, I until recently had responsibility for the Quality groups at ten plants that encompass, literally, hundreds of different jobs, skills, and abilities.  Could I step in today and do all those jobs well?  Of course, the answer is “no way!”  I am not competent to do every team member’s job.  That is not the role of the leader.  The leader’s role is to provide resources, guidance, direction, motivation… then, get out of the way.

Where then does compassion come into play?  Is compassion really an attribute that should at all be connected with leadership?  My answer to this last question is, “Yes, compassion plays a critical role in the success of any leader.”  Compassion is that attribute that provides balance.  It provides perspective to the needs of the team members.  It is the “brake” that slows a runaway train rolling down a steep hillside.  It is that quiet voice that asks, “Will this work?  What do you think?”  It is that prod in the side that helps guard against work/life imbalance.  It is that inner urging that wants the very best of life for every team member.  It is the foundation for integrity.  It is the fuel that drives kindness.  Compassion is that corner of our soul that moves our thoughts from “I” to “we”; that changes “selfish” into “self-less”; and motivates team members to give their very best every day.

So, competence is good.  However, when competence lacks compassion, team members rapidly can go from motivated to critical to non-responsive to non-caring.  And, team performance is dropping all the while.  It is often difficult to diagnose a declining team that suffers from this “lack of compassion” root cause because it is so subtle.  However, if you pause and consider the possibility, you might find team members would say, “If he/she doesn’t really care about me or how I feel, why should I care about our team?  I will do only what is necessary, but no more.”

What are some practical ways you can either develop, demonstrate, or diagnose the impact of lack of compassion on your team?  Here are a few:

  • As a leader, you must frequently (e.g., daily) “walk a mile in team member shoes” – put yourself in the place of your team members – would you feel valued?  Would you feel appreciated?  Have you ever heard anyone say “thanks”?
  • Has your team performance declined for no visible reason?  Could a lack of compassion be the possible root cause?  Is it worth working to bolster the sense of appreciation and pride for team members?
  • Do team members demonstrate kindness and caring for each other?  When you see this, does it make sense to highlight it to the team?
  • Do you emphasize results inordinately more than behaviors?
  • Do you really know your team members?  By this, I mean, do you know the names of their spouse, their kids, and their hobbies?  Do you know what is personally important to them?  Do you know what struggles they might be facing?  Do you care?

In short, a great leader is competent and expects team members to be competent.  However, a great leader also cares personally for his/her team members and actively demonstrates a proper balance between results and behaviors.  Without compassion, don’t be surprised when you see excessive criticism of decisions and an effort that can only be described as mediocre.

Have a great day!



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