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What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of your manager?

Alright, alright.  Keep the expletives to yourself.  This is a public forum.

Jim Collins, author of From Good to Great, would likely tell you that if “humble” and “willful” don’t make the list, your organization might be settling for “good enough.”  Collins and his team of researchers examined the performance of 1,435 good companies over the course of 40 years to find that only 11 of them became great, meaning they garnered stock returns at least three times the market’s.  Those that did were the companies driven by “Level 5” leaders – leaders who blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will that is channeled for the greater good.

Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s early engineers and later its Jolly Good Fellow (seriously), distilled the essence of good leadership – and personal happiness – into one key concept: compassion.  So how do we get men excited about compassion?  Meng says that compassion can be both fun and profitable for an organization and its employees, which means that it can be attractive to everyone.  He breaks compassion down into three key components that are linked to Collins’ Level 5 Leadership:

Now before we go railing against our managers, Meng encourages us to search inside ourselves.  He shows us that compassion is organic and usually starts with one or two “regular” employees and quickly grows into something bigger.  It’s contagious.  The impact an individual person has, even in his or her day-to-day tasks, is often more profound than we realize.

In a culture where the inmates run the asylum, each individual must take responsibility and exhibit the qualities of a leader to drive our collective success.  Maybe that’s what it takes to move from great to best.  In work, as in life, no one is going to hold you accountable.  The choice is yours.  What will you do?

Slide taken from Chade-Meng Tan's "Everyday compassion at Google."  2010.

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