How to drive innovation and belonging in your organization through a focus on compassionate leadership

Discover how an empathetic organizational culture can drive innovation and belonging through compassionate leadership

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PEX Network caught up with Anu Pujji, principal of operational excellence at Amazon, and Jen Croneberger, founder of The HUMAN Leadership Institute, ahead of their joint session at OPEX Week Live 2020 taking place online on 3-4 December 2020. In this interview, they discuss the strategies and challenges of fostering an empathetic culture that drives belonging and innovation.

PEX Network: What do you think is the biggest challenge for PEX professionals when it comes to driving innovation and creating a culture of belonging? What can they do to meet this challenge? 

Anu Pujji and Jen Croneberger: Undoubtedly, there is a growing sense of uncertainty and futility regarding the future.

The expanded presence of intolerance, despair, cynicism, distrust and combativeness toward ‘business as usual’ presents itself as a barrier to driving a culture of belonging and innovation.

Another barrier is the growing employee resistance to ‘command and control’ styles of management; workplace bullying; sexual harassment; arrogant, abusive, and incompetent managers; and the conspicuous absence of emotional intelligence. Increasing concern about organizational deception, manipulation, exploitation and violation of privacy also adds to the challenges.

Yet perhaps one of the most critical challenges to mention is the growth in despair, depression and other mental health issues, and the accompanying unhealthy methods for dealing with these, including self-medication and the abuse of legal and illegal drugs, alcoholism, suicides.

We are in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness. There are countless studies about what that looks like today and how we are battling this silent issue more frequently than we know sometimes. It is not only affecting us in our home and social settings, but it is showing up in many forms in the workplace.

Based on our own professional experiences, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, the mantra is to really be authentic and come from a genuine place of putting yourselves in the shoes of the employees and see things from their perspective. Take time to listen and to understand their world and most importantly – no matter how much experience you may have as a leader, treating each situation as unique and seeking first to understand before acting certainly helps.

Also, the awareness pushing compassionate leadership and belonging will drive revenues and solve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) problems. It will move us from a society that is craving connection in the midst of loneliness to one that feels safe and fulfilled for the employees when they walk in the “doors of their office” whether virtually or in person.

PEX Network: What can the audience expect from your presentation entitled Compassionate leadership: the glue that binds an organization together at OPEX Week Live 2020?

AP and JC: Compassionate leadership consists of key tenets and ideas that focus on how we show up every day, and the way in which we build, foster and maintain relationships and connections over time.  What sets most compassionate leaders apart from others is the knowledge that people will always be a company’s greatest asset. They lead from the heart with courage and curiosity, making the authentic connection with their teams the most important thing they can give the world every day.

In the midst of Covid-19 and the uncertainty that stands before every workforce around the globe, compassionate leaders will be critical to an organization’s ability to not just survive, but thrive. Compassionate leaders who lead with grace, humility and authenticity will help their team feel physically and, sometimes more importantly, mentally and emotionally safe. 

Leaders who continue to show up compassionately, especially now, will continue to drive engagement, productivity and belonging. In addition, as reported in Harvard Business Review December 2019, “Companies that employ 10,000 people can save $54m in annual revenue” by creating a culture of belonging.

As numbers start to emerge for 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic, what we are seeing is a push toward more DEI and culture work instead of pausing it due to the issues at hand. The realization by most companies who have understood the importance of this work prior to the pandemic is that people need to feel safe at work now more than ever. It has shown itself to be a good time to embrace our own humanity and lean into these conversations, instead of moving away from them. This is exactly what compassionate leaders do.

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PEX Network: In your opinion, what are the three key takeaways that delegates will gain from your session? 

AP and JC: The session will not only teach attendees how to set themselves apart as a purposefully compassionate leader but also how to measure, improve and enrich their own capabilities and those of their team, to be compassionate citizens in the workplace and in society. Those who attend this session will learn how to mentor and develop other compassionate leaders to inevitably build a culture where everyone feels they belong in the organization.

PEX Network: Why do you think it is important for PEX leaders to attend OPEX Week Live 2020?

AP and JC: It is important for them to attend the event to foster a culture of continuous personal improvement, and to learn and share new ideas to broaden the mind-set. In research and learning conducted by both of us,, we both agree that one of the most important leadership qualities is a growth mind-set.  

When leaders are open to the diversity of thought, willing to listen and learn from others, as well as encouraging their teams to focus here too, they will build an organization that has a strong desire to grow, even in the midst of hard times.

OPEX Week Live 2020 will provide all the opportunities to do so. Compassionate leaders are not afraid of forward movement, even if it means they do not have all the answers right now. There is no shame in the not-knowing, only in the not wanting to know.

To attend the session that Pujji and Croneberger will jointly present, register to OPEX Week Live 2020, taking place online on 3-4 December 2020.