Attendees at the AMA Women’s Leadership Center’s “Summer Soiree” this June enjoyed networking over wine and cheese, a celebration of accomplishments and goals, and a talk about the value of compassion and other soft skills for women in business.
Women’s Leadership Center (WLC) Director Lauren McNally asked the full house of attendees at AMA’s New York City center to post their accomplishments from the first half of the year and their goals for the second half on display boards before the evening’s presentation began. “We wanted to do a little check-in on what we have achieved so far this year, and also what we are looking to do for the rest of year,” McNally said. Attendees shared achievements such as getting a coaching certificate, starting grad school, and leaving a toxic work environment to work at a nonprofit.
“We don’t celebrate our wins enough, so it’s important that we actually take time to think about it and talk about it and share it with others,” McNally said.
Using “soft skills” in the workplace without looking soft
Leah Weiss, PhD, a researcher, lecturer, consultant, and author who teaches compassionate leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, was the featured speaker for the WLC’s Summer Soiree. She talked about “Compassion at Every Level” and how valuable the trait of compassion is for leaders.
Author Leah Weiss (left) with a participant at the Women’s Leadership Center event
Weiss discussed research showing that companies benefit from employees with “soft skills”—such as working well in teams, critical thinking, mindfulness, or compassion—but women sometimes face difficulty expressing these traits when men they work with aren’t doing so.
“There’s an extra layer of complexity…. There’s a different set of challenges and questions in terms of how we function within the context of the double bind, where we can either be liked or we can be effective but it’s difficult to be both as a woman,” Weiss said.
As one woman in the audience expressed it, “If you’re in an environment where everyone’s not mindful and you’re trying to show your mindfulness, you may get looked upon as weak as a woman in your organization.”
“You come off sounding like ‘the woman’ at the organization, which is of course not the way anybody should be treated,” another attendee commented.
Learning compassionate leadership
“Compassion isn’t just important when we’re getting along and see eye to eye. Compassion’s important when we disagree, when it’s tense, when we dislike [someone], when we’re challenged,” Weiss said.
She mentioned that Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, believes leaders can be compassionate even when they have to fire someone. The compassionate part isn’t easy—it means giving tough feedback when necessary so that struggling employees are not surprised when they’re told they are being let go. Learning to give that feedback is part of learning compassionate leadership, and like other soft skills, it can be taught in business schools and in management and leadership training, she told the audience.
“These soft skills have a very real impact on sales and profits and performance and customer satisfaction,” Weiss said. “If we’re rude and difficult to deal with, that impacts the people who are buying the services or products from us.”
“If an individual’s values or emotional intelligence aren’t being mirrored in the organization, then I think there is a jostling that happens there for that individual,” Weiss said. “That either could be an opportunity and be one of the things that makes you unique and a leader and makes people want to rally around and support you…or, eventually [you decide] this isn’t the culture; it can’t be fixed.” At that point, she said, the woman may look to leave the company and do something else.
Strategies for when your company doesn’t value compassion and mindfulness
Weiss suggests a few techniques for women hoping to survive in a workplace where their values aren’t fully shared:
- Focus your mindfulness and compassion on places where there is the most benefit for you and others, so that you don’t end up depleted of energy and burnt out.
- Try to enlist the support of people who have a lot of power in the organization and are aligned with your vision.
- Take opportunities to mentor newer employees, which brings value to both you and the mentee.
- Form small groups with other women where you can work together to make changes.
- Realize when it’s time to move on. Some cultures can’t be changed.
The WLC's Summer Soiree was just the beginning of a season full of activity. Register for one of our upcoming webinars or for our next live event, “Show up With Power and Authenticity to Create the Success You Want.”