Why compassion will be the most important leadership trait in a post-COVID media world

Mario Bergmann
By Mario Bergmann | 7 February 2022
Mario Bergmann.

Mario Bergmann is Senior Performance Executive at media agency Hatched.

As 2022 begins, we are entering the third year of the pandemic. We're all still feeling the effects of lockdowns, uncertainty and dealing with new and ongoing challenges. The Omicron wave was a build on the anxiety we're already feeling and it has brought a whole new set of challenges.

We're feeling disconnected at home and at work. In the workplace, leaders will have the hard task of trying to restore that connection. This is why compassion is going to be the single most important leadership trait moving forward.

As this piece in the Harvard Business Review points out, compassion is a step up from empathy.

If empathy is showing an understanding of another person’s situation and sharing the feelings one might be feeling, compassion is that plus a willingness to help. 

Empathy is important but not without its drawbacks. For leaders, there’s the danger of getting empathetically “hijacked”. This happens when you relate to a person’s situation to the point where it clouds your judgment and negatively impacts decision making. And then there’s the empathy deficit when people simply can’t empathise with others. According to one American study, in 2021, only a quarter of employees think the organisations they work for are empathetic enough.

On the way to being more compassionate, leaders need to nail empathy. The same study found seven out of 10 leaders find it hard to show empathy in the workplace and 22% aren't even sure how to improve their empathy.

The good news is, we have a great base to build from. We've all just been through two years of upheaval – this may be the only globally shared experience like it in our lifetimes. Now more than ever we can relate and naturally connect across a range of issues. To be compassionate, though, leaders need to go that step further and show how they are there to help.

To do this, we need to stop for a second and forget about the work, the deadlines and delivering for our clients. It’s a big ask in the fast-paced media industry when few of us take the time to stop and connect. But by simply carving out time to sit with your teams and ask them about what is going on, you’ll find a number of benefits. As it stands, you may not be getting the best work out of your people.

Mental health is going to be a major focus for all of us this year and taking a compassionate approach to managing this will go a long way.

This is also a tool that can assist with the great reshuffle that's going on across the industry. If your relationship with staff is purely transactional, there's little to stop them from responding to those LinkedIn recruitment approaches. Why wouldn't you take a pay bump and move on if you feel like you’re not valued and understood?

Personally, right now, I'd choose to stay with an organisation with compassionate leadership over a cash injection.

Like many expats in the industry, I've spent the last two years disconnected from my family in South Africa. Connection and community are more important than ever before and I'm looking for that in my work.

I feel extremely fortunate to have that at Hatched where the leaders of the business demonstrate compassion through their actions and the establishment of initiatives such as a team dedicated to fostering belonging and connection. Likewise, staff have a voice with management through our junior leadership team, the Shadow Board, and since the onset of the pandemic, we've each been given an additional five days of annual leave to focus on our wellbeing.

People want more from the companies they work for. That doesn’t always mean more money in the bank. If you’re looking to bring your teams back together after the upheaval of the past two years, compassion is a great place to start.


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