We’ve asked several Top 100 members to write short essays on some aspect of leadership, focusing on just one or two virtues. This creative piece, written by Faculty of Engineering student Annika Palm, speaks to compassion, which involves “creating space for authenticity and vulnerability within groups of people and exhibiting those qualities yourself.”
Strain hardening occurs when a material undergoes plastic deformation. As the metal deforms, dislocations develop in the material. It is the build-up and entanglement of those dislocations that give the metal strength. After strain hardening has taken place, it becomes extremely difficult to bend the material back to its original form; the material is changed.
People are like this too. A variety of experiences have shaped me into my form as I stand today. Sometimes I have chosen to stretch myself, seeking challenge and consequently dislocations that I knew would contribute to the person I am striving to become. Other times external forces and circumstances have pulled me, unexpectedly, harder and faster than I liked, and left me with dislocations I wasn’t always sure how to deal with. These dislocations felt like loss, disconnection, failures and flaws. In these instances, I have often wanted to revert back to my previous shape, but have been unable to; I am changed. Dislocations can be formed through positive or negative experiences, but neither can be discarded.
The strength humans acquire through dislocations is different than the rigidity a strain-hardened material would exhibit. Strength is not perceived toughness. I am referring to an increased strength in character. Strength in character allows you to exude compassion for the world and the people in it. This strength comes from accepting all dislocations within you and within others, recognizing that the composition of dislocations is variable between people.
Leading with compassion is the most fundamental way to bring positive change to any community you touch. Leading with compassion means creating space for authenticity and vulnerability within groups of people and exhibiting those qualities yourself. It means being open-minded and accepting of differing opinions. It means placing the value of people above achievement. Leading with compassion involves taking the time to invest in all of the members of the team. This can mean listening to or addressing their concerns, giving encouragement, sharing knowledge or taking the time to teach a skill. Leading with compassion brings together people who care about why something must be done- what is going to be done gets decided along the way.
Whatever broader change or achievement you are striving for as a leader, will be more wholly realized if it is built on a foundation of compassion. If you are able to engage others through their heart-space and not just their headspace, they become motivated and invested in the higher purpose of their actions.
Despite beginning with the parallels between materials science and human behaviour, I want to end with something that appears to be fundamentally human wherever you go. As people, we are seeking love and connection. If life isn’t about injecting more love into this world then I have no idea what it is about. Leading with compassion is the most basic way to catalyze positive change toward a world driven by love.