A couple of days ago I was at a low point. I’d come on a university delegation to India, and part of my mission was to get a few people interested in becoming sponsors or donors for our programmes.
By the end of day two, when that segment of the trip was over, I’d failed with mission number 1. I didn’t even really have any potential leads and I was disappointed with myself because I knew I had met potential donors, but I just couldn’t make the human connection necessary to go on to ask the question or make the pitch. I felt as though I had failed, and that the opportunity would never arise again.
I wanted to learn from that experience, so I framed it as a leadership issue. When I did so, I explored why self-compassion was so important to that process of learning, and leading.
So why is self-compassion a leadership question?
My default position when I underperform (or, more accurately, when I perceive I do) is to blame myself. It’s not healthy. Self-flagellation does no-one any good (unless they have those letters for a high-scoring word in Scrabble). The truth is that we can’t always perform as we’d like – or even as others expect us to – and that’s OK.
That’s where self-compassion is so important. Research shows increasing self-compassion has all the benefits of self-esteem— but without the downsides. You can feel good and perform well while not turning into a jerk or being unable to improve. It’s healthier than self-confidence, too. From Eric Barker’s Barking Up The Wrong Tree (2017):
“Research shows increasing self-compassion has all the benefits of self-esteem— but without the downsides. You can feel good and perform well while not turning into a jerk or being unable to improve. Unlike self-confidence, self-compassion doesn’t lead to delusion”.
I know what you’re thinking: self-compassion sounds v hippyish, and you want to be a high achiever, right?
You should know, then, that self-compassion has been proven to increase the accuracy of our perceptions about ourselves and our performance. Self-esteem, by contrast, can lead to delusion (and is highly correlated with narcissism).
To perform at our best, we need to be happy (see Shawn Achor’s TED talk for more on that).When our self-worth is conditional on achievement – as it is when based on self-esteem or self-confidence) our happiness will inevitably yo-yo.
Self-compassion also trumps self-esteem and self-confidence because it begets a growth mindset. People with huge levels of self-confidence can lose their willingness to improve, because they think they’re already performing exceedingly well. They become complacent. People with self-compassion can allow themselves to short of their own benchmarks, enabling them to learn from mistakes and aim higher.
Need another reason? People who practice self-compassion are better liked than those who do not. That stands to reason, when you give it some thought; if you can’t care and love yourself how can you expect to do so for anyone else? Learning to love yourself really is the greatest love of all (thanks Whitney).
So there you have it. Some very sound reasons to practice self-compassion, I hope. It gives you a stable level of contentment, begets a growth mindset, makes you popular, and no-one’s going to call you a dickhead (well they might, but not because you’re arrogant).
If you liked this post, please share with anyone you think might benefit. If there are any errors or typos in this post I’m going to forgive myself and aim to do better next time 🙂