Founder Compassion Passion Drives Your Venture, Compassion Defines It
Founder Compassion: You will have heard that having a focussed passion for delivering benefit is a paramount quality for successful entrepreneurs, but not about doing so compassionately.
Developing a compassionate approach to business may seem like strange advice for creating and developing your new venture. However, to attract both colleagues and customers, you will do better through compassion than command and control. New entrepreneurs exhibit a tremendous capacity for being aware of the world around them. It may even have been part of what drove them originally to want to start a venture, having spotted an opportunity that others had missed.
Commanding and controlling types often exhibit detached impatience with others, as well as prejudice and discrimination. Founder compassion results in greater commitment from colleagues and permeates the startup’s culture, which in turn will engender better results1, being awake to issues that confront not only their colleagues, but also customers—and greater humanity.
Entrepreneurial success is built through team efforts, which in turn depends on commitment. Even a solopreneur depends on a virtual team of people providing support. Leading a cohesive and effective team requires shared responsibility and goals, through mutual encouragement.
Without compassion a founder will be blind to the needs of others, so narcissist business founders don’t get very far, since they lack empathy, or even awareness of others. The more a company grows, the more it depends on collaboration. Self-esteem is great, but everyone in the company can’t be above average. Too many inflated egos will tend to clash, with conflict also leading to negative results.
Empathy Leads to Founder Compassion
Empathy is very important to founders, since they must understand the people that surround them and upon whom they depend. Empathy involves seeing the world from the perspective of the ‘other’ and fostering a vision of a better world for all.
Founders whose only goal is profit, especially for themselves, are notorious losers; selfishness and entrepreneurship don’t go together well (I am not talking about revenue, the lifeblood of a business). Obsession with success as measured by profit, and never getting enough of it, is likely to occlude the ability to learn—from mistakes as well as successes. Entrepreneurs should stay learners, and chances are high that through empathy, will learn from others.
Empathy also leads to compassion, which motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of others. However, it starts with self-compassion, which is especially important for founders, given their frequent propensity to feel they are doing it all on their own.
Self-compassion Yields More Than Self-esteem
Self-esteem, you might think, is a necessary condition to transform an idea into a business, because you appreciate the opportunity better than other people. However, without other people, your dream will never see reality and overblown self-esteem will blind you to the contributions of others.
Self-compassion helps the founder acknowledge personal shortcomings and enables being nice to self, alleviating the naturally arising fear and isolation when plans are thwarted. Personally, I always neglected self-compassion, even though I felt I had founder compassion—and the neglect led to an enormous amount of personal suffering. Even after ten years of being in business and with 30 colleagues, I felt huge pressure to be the ‘big provider’, making the most sales of anyone in the company, never cutting myself any slack. Not something I even repeated.
When the founder is self-compassionate and individual frailty is accepted, chances are high that an appreciation of the wider society around her will follow and enable acting in a much more mutually beneficial way. Founder self-compassion involves an awareness of personal pain, but it does not stop there. Just as with compassion for others, it results in a desire to change. Kristen Neff 2 says, “Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you?”
Founder Compassion is Good Business
What’s good for you as a founder will also be good for the venture, too. Kristen’s research is relatively recent, but the concept is not new. Even in the nineteenth century, Leo Tolstoy said in his Calendar of Wisdom, “If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself.”
Kristen’s research results question whether self-compassion necessarily leads directly to being more compassionate towards others. However, as a veteran entrepreneur, I have noticed that introverted founders (Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are examples and the links will tell you more) tend towards compassion, as can be seen by their behaviors.
A last thought from the Dalai Lama, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Founder Compassion is Viral
Founder Compassion is viral, because it is so public and information travels fast in the social networking age. People learn very quickly about those companies who practice compassion, and since the message is pretty compelling more and more founders behave that way naturally. Government and the institutions did not mandate it, or even lead the way.
We hear a lot about hacks and other bad things that happen in this instant communicating world, but the good things have a viral life too. So we have good piled on good, as for instance CauseBox—who deliver hand-curated socially-conscious products for women four times a year. Each product has a story that makes the world better and they tell it with each delivery.
Further Reading Concerning Founder Compassion
Other Insights and Reflections will give you related, but different, ideas around what it takes to lead a startup with founder compassion:
- Entrepreneurial Empathy—founders set the character and ethics of the new venture by the way they behave
- Connection, Trust and Love—the difference between espoused values and deep emotion
- Buddhist Economics—economics as if people mattered
- Beneficial Values—avoid greed, hatred and delusion
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2 Author of Self-Compassion: stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind (William Morrow, 2011).She is a pioneering researcher into self-compassion and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. You can test how self-compassionate you are on her website: http://www.selfcompassion.org.