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Balancing Compassion and Assertiveness as a Leader

May 3, 2023 | 8m


It Starts With You

As a leader, balancing both compassion and assertiveness can be very difficult. Primarily, because of our own insecurities and fears. Remember, as leaders, you’re bringing yourself to work. You want to examine your insecurities and have clarity around those attributes that could hold you back. This could be your family history, trauma, or beliefs. With that knowledge, you want to ask yourself: Do I resist being more assertive because I fear rejection? Or do I resist being more compassionate because I fear the loss of control in the contempt of my staff?

Write these answers down. Once written, these attributes become more of a reality and something you have to deal with. What happens if you don’t deal with these insecurities at the root? It’s going to affect everything from your output, projects, and staff turnover in your team.

Once you’ve introspected, here are some tips to help you align better with your team and achieve a comfortable homeostasis.

Build Clarity Through 1-1’s

Leaders might have done all the work on emotional intelligence but can still remain unaware of their own attributes and belief systems. Their team can be in so much fear of them that communication can become a one-way street. To avoid this messy situation altogether, make sure you're having 1-1 sessions with your staff.

In those 1-1s, make sure you're getting to know them and share more about how you work as well. Share with them that even in difficult times, your intention is not to harm them, but to arm them. Let them know that you're here for them and that you want to see them thrive and advance. You also need to understand that every employee communicates on a different frequency and processes information differently. Get to know the people on your team and what they hope to achieve in the organization. If you’re unsure of what you should be asking to achieve clarity, here are my suggestions:

1 Has the job and current assignment lined up with what you expected? If not, please give examples.

This will grant them the floor to communicate information that will serve as key data points for the whole onboarding process (KPI’s, recruiting, onboarding, and so on.) Do your best to create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable communicating freely and without reservations.

2 What are the projects within and outside of our department that you would like to be a part of?

Most employees shine when there is time for a project. Give them the green light and provide your advice as they navigate the ups and downs.

3 How can I advocate for you in a way that helps you play to your strengths?

This will take time as they may not know all of their strengths or personality profiles. Start with what you know.

4 How can I position you in a way that helps you strengthen your weaknesses, but also positions you to advance and thrive?

Communicate to them that you want to see them advance and that their weaknesses don’t connote failure.

5 Do you have any questions for me that would bring clarity to both your individual and team assignments?

Open the floor for them and be sure to listen and take notes as you may discern a running theme amongst your team.

6 Tell me some things you like to do outside of work?

Though work/life balance is difficult to come by, you want to encourage your team members to have full lives outside the office too. The question also indicates an interest in them and engenders trust.

7 Are there any skills or training opportunities you would like to pursue?

Asking this question shows that you care about your employee's career development and are invested in their long-term success. It can also help you identify areas where your team may need additional training or support.

8 Who’s someone at the company or organization that you sense you can learn from?

This will potentially set them up for a mentoring opportunity and the chance to shadow someone who they are excited to learn from. Be careful about promising any mentor/mentee relationships prematurely and be sure that expectations are communicated for each party involved.

9 Is there anything else you would like to discuss or bring to my attention?

By giving your employee the opportunity to share anything else that's on their mind, you create a space for open and honest communication. This can help you identify potential issues before they become bigger problems.

10 What are your current priorities and how can I support you in achieving them?

Asking this question shows that you care about your employee's goals and want to help them succeed. It also helps you identify any obstacles that may be preventing your employee from accomplishing their tasks.

11 What do you enjoy most about your job and what could be improved?

Understanding what motivates your employee can help you better manage them and create a more positive work environment. Similarly, asking for suggestions for improvement shows that you value your employee's opinions and are open to feedback.

12 How are you feeling about your workload and do you have any concerns?

This allows you to gauge whether your employee is feeling overwhelmed or if there are any areas where they may need additional support. It can also help you identify any potential burnout before it becomes a bigger issue.

Use these questions as a guide to build a deeper understanding of the people on your team.

Practice Self-care

As a leader, don’t neglect your own needs. Like your team, you too have your own mental health that will go through highs and lows. Although it can be difficult, make sure you're practicing self-care, especially when there are projects that need to be tended to urgently. Remember that you also need to manage your own manager, supervisor, and the C-suite that might be pressuring you to get things done. If you're putting too much pressure on your team, it's a surefire sign that you're putting too much pressure on yourself. Find time in your day to do things that help you decompress. These breaks will help you bring your best energy to every interaction with your team.

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Jahmaal Marshall

Certified Counselor & Founder

Listen Then Speak



Be an Emotionally-Intelligent Leader