The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. It becomes the throned monarch better than his throne.
I had to memorize this in my grade nine English class. My teacher, Mrs. Bakke, was a strong believer in the value of committing famous texts to memory. Of course we were all in doubt at the time but now I realize how wise she was for this passage became a sort of talisman for me, reminding me of the importance of compassion.
These days, in business, there is a lot of talk about productivity and bottom line and results and those are certainly important. Leaders certainly need to hold themselves accountable for these things. But that focus addresses the what of the leader’s role. What about the how?
A results and bottom line focus without compassion or mercy is a pretty cold dish served up and while it may yield short-term results, it doesn’t always lead to long-term health of an organization.
We had a client who faced the difficult challenge of how to deal with an employee who was no longer measuring up. The employee had been promoted by another senior leader who had since left the organization. Our client inherited this employee on their team and under this new management, the employee had really failed to deliver the key results that were core to their job. However, this employee was also very well liked by other employees and had, according to other leaders in the business, delivered in a previous role at a high quality of business. And the employee, a middle manager, had been with the organization for almost 20 years.
What to do? Our client called on us and asked our advice. Our client’s primary concern was to do the right thing. But the right thing is not always obvious. What was the right thing here? And for whom? For the leader? For the employee? For the organization?
We worked with the client and the employee to analyze the situation. We provided 360-degree feedback assessment to ensure that data was collected from a number of different people with whom this employee interacted. We analyzed the context in which the employee was working and the skills that they employee already had. We came up with a coaching plan and worked with the employee to set some goals. Ultimately the employee asked for a transfer to another department where they could return to a version of the previous role. Our client helped make that transfer happen.
The results? An employee was saved from dismissal with his dignity intact, the organization was saved from an expensive buyout and morale and productivity went up on the team when they saw how compassionately the senior leader had dealt with the issue.
In this case, neither the quality of mercy nor the quality of leadership was strained.