This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Trillion Dollar Coach" by Bill Campbell. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What’s the importance of compassion in the workplace? How does it impact workplace relationships?
Compassion in the workplace can improve relationships in the office. According to Bill Campbell, it allows people at work to be human and not just put up a professional persona.
Read on for more about the importance of compassion in the workplace.
Compassion in the Workplace: Bill Campbell’s Example
Love isn’t a word that’s usually applied to business relationships. Studies have shown that people often view warm and friendly employees as incompetent and workers who are more rigid and stiff as competent. Employees often learn they are rewarded for behaving more like robots than people. They are taught to separate personal emotions from the business environment.
But Campbell believed that the workplace becomes more joyful and teams become more effective when leaders break down the walls between the human persona and the professional persona. These principles can help foster compassion in the workplace:
Care About People’s Lives Outside of Work
The principle: Humanize your organization and you’ll build a stronger team. Most companies tout the idea that they genuinely care about their employees. But many workplaces are dehumanizing, especially if high-performance expectations create a stressful, competitive environment.
Campbell encouraged executives to talk to their employees about their personal lives, learn about their families, and care about them as people, not just employees. Campbell practiced this himself and was known for digging far beyond the superficial. He learned everybody’s names, their hobbies, and their interests. Instead of saying, “How are the kids?” Campbell would say, “How was Hannah’s last soccer game?” and then “Has she started looking at colleges yet?”
Campbell’s caring attitude wasn’t just for show because he really did believe in compassion in the workplace (and outside of it). When Steve Jobs was dying from cancer, Campbell visited him at home or in the hospital nearly every day. Even though he and Jobs no longer had a business relationship, Campbell prioritized his days around these important visits to his gravely ill colleague. His loyalty to Jobs didn’t end in the workplace; he cared about him as a whole person.
Supporting research: Employees who work at organizations where “companionate love” is common—feelings of compassion in the workplace and caring for others—have higher job satisfaction and more success working in teams. A 2004 study states that compassion at the individual level—a single manager or leader showing compassion toward employees—often translates into compassion at the organizational level. One executive’s generosity can legitimize empathy within the entire company.
Additionally, studies have shown that when teams have leaders that care only about achievements, employee engagement and retention are lower, work quality is poor, and business results decline. On the flip side, feeling emotionally supported by colleagues and higher-ups is a stronger predictor of job satisfaction than the work itself.
Example: When Ruth Porat was hired as Google’s CFO, she had to commute to Silicon Valley from New York. Campbell constantly asked her how her husband was handling the arrangement. He wanted to make sure that not just his CFO was happy, but also her husband. That’s an example of compassion in the workplace.
Another classic Campbell story occurred when Brad Smith was hired at Intuit in 2003. He attended a meet-and-greet to get to know the other company executives. Campbell introduced himself by giving Smith a giant bear hug and saying words along the lines of “Welcome to the team, you SOB.” Smith had just been introduced to Campbell’s signature style, which fell far outside the norms of corporate culture: warm hugs and friendly profanity.
The Google executives who authored Trillion Dollar Coach admit they aren’t huggers like Campbell—they’re more inclined to shake hands. And they don’t go as deep into employees’ family lives as Campbell did. But they have adopted many of Campbell’s habits, like learning people’s names, looking at an employee’s family photos and learning about their spouses and children, and asking questions about their lives outside of work.
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- How Bill Campbell went from football coach to tech coach
- The 4 pillars of Campbell's leadership philosophy
- How the King Arthur Round Table model for making decisions empowers employees