Give yourself a break: self-acceptance for compassionate leadership

Last week I wrote an article about how our true power lies in our vulnerability. I am continuing on this theme because this is often part of the journey of the leaders I coach. At a time, where our patience is being tested, uncertainty is becoming normal and our stress levels are increasing; developing our self-awareness on our weaknesses and stress responses is key to finding compassion for ourselves. It is only when we can be kind to ourselves, that we can create the space to be genuinely compassionate to others.

When we fail to meet a target or goal, we will either get defensive and blame others or we blame ourselves. If we wrote down on paper, what we say to ourselves in our own heads, we could be shocked as to how nasty we can be with ourselves. Self-acceptance is an answer to being our worst self-critic. To counteract self-depreciation, self-acceptance is a good antidote. It is an on-going journey to develop and key if we want to develop personally and professionally to better support others.

Here is an article about why self-acceptance is fundamental to develop compassion in our leadership style, to reach our potential, and support others to reach theirs.

Self-acceptance as a cure for self-judgment

According to Shepard (1979), “self-acceptance is an individual’s satisfaction or happiness with oneself and is thought to be necessary for good mental health. Self-acceptance involves self-understanding, a realistic, albeit subjective, awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It results in an individual’s feeling about oneself, that they are of “unique worth””.

As human beings, we are hard-wired from a very early age to look at the negatives and our faults more than the positives. Parents reading their kids’ school reports or past school reports will notice a lot more comments describing what to do better rather than things that were done well. Our internal critic is largely influenced by the society we live in today. Self-judgement will be more or less pronounced based on our upbringing and our limiting beliefs.

Our biology doesn’t help either. Our Monkey Mind, which is also referred to as our reptilian brain, needs 8 positives points to accept a negative without feeling threatened and getting defensive! So, while this isn’t our fault, we have the power to, and the responsibility for changing our internal negative dialogue, if it doesn’t serve us or if it impacts others. Often, when we criticise ourselves heavily, it translates in criticising others in the same way. This can get in the way of finding compassion for others when leading in difficult times.

Self-acceptance is related to compassionate leadership

Self- acceptance is different from self-esteem which involves comparing yourselves to others. Self-acceptance really refers to us accepting ourselves as we are. It is a core building block of self-compassion.

When I worked at LinkedIn, I experienced and witnessed Compassionate Leadership first hand from multiple leaders. An example of this refers to when leaders dealt with conflict. Instead of looking for someone to blame, I witnessed leaders at LinkedIn asking questions, a bit like a detective, to understand the facts first and one’s point of view in a non-threatening way while holding back their judgment. They would focus on seeking the intention behind the actions taken.

By putting ourselves in other’s shoes, it is easier to understand why people do what they do and deflate any drama which can arise. Often conflict arises simply from the misinterpretation of intentions. This requires curiosity and compassion in seeking to understand before judging.

Holding back our own biased interpretation of a situation is really hard to do because our Monkey Mind or reptilian brain will react in a very quick way and self-construct missing pieces of a story to suits its own beliefs.

Our capacity to find compassion and neutralise our own reptilian initial biased reaction is influenced by how accepting we can be of the fact that we don’t have all the answers and that we are far from perfect ourselves.

Understanding our strengths and weaknesses for self-acceptance

Across my sales career, I did most of the well-known professional psychometric tests. I first did the Gallup Strength Finder and DISC as part of my interview process to work at Rackspace back in 2005. The latest one I did was Insights Discovery at LinkedIn in 2016. They all referred to similar strengths and highlighted a range of weaknesses.

Investing in understanding our strengths and our weaknesses is important to identify how our biased interpretations can be unhelpful in managing difficult situations. Understanding how we respond to stress is also key to managing ourselves, so we can show up in a more supportive way for others. I work with clients to help them better understand themselves, so they can be better understood themselves and better understand others. It is this depth of self-understanding which creates space for compassion for ourselves and others.

Why become a more compassionate leader

A study carried out by the Harvard Business Review in 2018 showed that people with high levels of self-compassion demonstrate three behaviours:

  •     They are kind rather than judgmental about their own failures and mistakes
  •     They recognise that failures are a shared human experience
  •     They take a balanced approach to negative emotions when they stumble or fall short – they allow themselves to feel bad, but they don’t let negative emotions take over

By bringing a more human approach to our leadership style, we become more authentic and forge deeper connections with others. In this remote working environment, this is more important than ever to motivate teams to perform while creating a safe space for them to feel supported.

Self-reflection is a good way to increase our own self-awareness. At a time where we are spending less time with others socialising, it is a good time to invest in self-reflection to develop personally and professionally.

I invite you to ask yourself

  •     What are my strengths of character? What would the people close to me describe them as?
  •     What are my weaknesses? What would the people close to me describe them as?
  •     When I am stressed, how do I tend to respond? What is the impact on me, and others?
  •     What is serving me? In what situation?
  •     What isn’t so useful? In what situation?

Feel free to share any insights you gained from this article on self-acceptance, or answers to these questions. By sharing with others, we can find peace and relief in not being alone in stepping out of our comfort zone in learning to manage our own internal critic and self-judgment tendencies, for the good of others.

As a Conscious Leadership coach, Lauren takes an internal approach to leadership development. She works with founders and leaders in Tech to access new insights and awareness about themselves to strike a balance between performance and wellbeing.

Lauren is also a keynote speaker on the Success Paradox. The concept of success coming at a cost. The cost of our physical, emotional or mental health. Success can also impact our relationships and our sense of purpose. She shares how you can reduce these risks and unlock our infinite potential.

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