Compassion is not easy or cheap. A leader who sincerely seeks to understand and care for others will pay a price. But the rewards are satisfying and great.
I want to examine compassion from the perspective of a “you-first” leader—the man or woman whose focus is on responding to the needs of employees, customers, and community before his or her own needs.
I urge you to be a person and leader known for radical acts of compassion. Here’s an incredible example:
It was 1944, and Bert Frizen was an infantryman on the front lines in Europe. American forces had advanced in the face of intermittent shelling and small-arms fire throughout the morning hours, but now all was quiet. His patrol reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field before them. Unknown to the Americans, a battery of Germans waited in a hedgerow about two hundred yards across the field.
Bert was one of two scouts who moved out into the clearing. Once he was halfway across the field, the remainder of his battalion followed. Suddenly, the Germans opened fire, and machine gun fire ripped into both of Bert’s legs. The American battalion withdrew into the woods for protection, while a rapid exchange of fire continued.
Bert lay helplessly in a small stream as shots volleyed overhead. There seemed to be no way out. To make matters worse, he now noticed that a German soldier was crawling toward him. Death appeared imminent; he closed his eyes and waited. To his surprise, a considerable period passed without the expected attack, so he ventured opening his eyes again. He was startled to see the German kneeling at his side, smiling. He then noticed that the shooting had stopped. Troops from both sides of the battlefield watched anxiously. Without any verbal exchange, this mysterious German reached down to lift Bert in his arms and proceeded to carry him to the safety of Bert’s comrades.
Having accomplished his self-appointed mission, and still without speaking a word, the German soldier turned and walked back across the field to his own troop. No one dared break the silence of this sacred moment. Moments later the cease-fire ended, but not before all those present had witnessed how one man risked everything for his enemy.
How would your business, your family, your community—our world—be better if more of these radical acts of compassion occurred on a daily basis?
We can respond with compassion to every person we encounter by thinking “you-first.” Jesus constantly demonstrated this approach with his team of disciples. Perhaps the most memorable example occurred shortly before his death when he got down on his knees and washed their feet. In this humbling act he demonstrated to them that even as their leader he desired to serve them. He wanted them to understand that in his view—the ultimate leader—the needs of others came first.
An entire, well-established management perspective has evolved from this concept of service to others. Robert K. Greenleaf first used the term servant leadership in a 1970 essay.
This is a very counterintuitive notion in my day when competition is fierce in nearly every area of life. You can’t “look out for number 1” and say “you-first” at the same time. To be a “you-first” leader feels like it costs at first, but is far valuable in the long run.
So then how do we learn to put others first?