In our recent work on compassionate leadership one aspect has proven to be particularly valuable – self compassion. Many (most?) people who are making good things happen in their workplace or the wider world, serving beyond self, caring about others, find that self-care gets confused with selfish. We often find ourselves repeating the airline scene before take-off; “In the event of cabin depressurisation oxygen masks will fall. If you are responsible for another passenger ensure you put your mask on first”. We can’t look after others if we’re not in good shape ourselves.
Similarly over the years we’ve done a lot of work on leadership development where 360o feedback is used. It’s interesting to see how people read their own reports. Commonly people will skip over the ‘good stuff’, and focus on areas of perceived improvement or where criticisms have been voiced. And it’s very common to find people giving themselves the lowest scores amongst all the respondents.
We are often our own harshest critics. We often talk to ourselves in ways that we’d never dream of speaking to another human. Interestingly, often it’s the highest achievers who are those with the greatest self-criticism; the disappointment in their own performance driving themselves on. And so often for people for whom truth and honesty are vitally important, there’s a struggle with being truthful and honest with and about themselves, their strengths, their high performance and the positive impact they are having. Commonly, underlying much of this is a deep fear – being, or being seen as, arrogant.
It can take a while for many people to recognise that they are inherently good. That a few errors makes them human, not a ‘bad’ person. That they can begin to trust themselves that whatever they do comes from a good place. And that they are so keenly tuned to looking out for arrogance it is hugely unlikely to occur in their own behaviour – they will smell it a mile away and change what they are doing accordingly.
So if you fancy, take a moment now. How are you caring for yourself? Physically? Emotionally? Mentally? And dare we say spiritually (meaning the whole self, connecting what is deep within with how we are living our values and beliefs in what we are doing in the world, and finding a certain peace with it all). How can you care for yourself in the same way you care for others? How can you care for yourself in the way that enables you to best serve all you care about? What small changes would make a big difference for you?
And how are you speaking to yourself. Are you being as understanding, compassionate, supportive and truly honest with yourself in the same way you are with others? Seeing yourself as no more and no less than you truly are? Chances are you are doing fabulously amongst difficult and challenging circumstances. Not perfect. But as Elizabeth Taylor said “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty irritating virtues”.