“Every leader has to create a drumbeat for their company,” Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and host of the podcast Masters of Scale, says in a recent episode. A drumbeat, he says, is the pulse behind a company’s mission; it’s an ethos that keeps things moving. And like its musical counterpart, an organization’s drumbeat should be easy to get behind.
“There’s no one ‘correct’ drumbeat for a leader or an organization,” Hoffman explains. The drumbeat of one company may be “innovation,” another “competition.” Or, as in the case of LinkedIn, it may be “compassionate management.” That value was brought to the networking platform by Jeff Weiner, who in 2008, took over as CEO.
Weiner, we learn in the episode, almost missed the opportunity to learn about this leadership style. While he was still at Yahoo!, where he managed thousands of employees, Weiner was invited to attend a management seminar — and for a while, he put it off. (“I was just skeptical,” he says.) Eventually, after hearing from other leaders at the company that the session was worthwhile, Weiner attended. There, he learned about the human side of management, and how important it is “to put yourself in the shoes of the people that you’re working with, to understand where they’re coming from – their strengths, their weaknesses.”
Later, when Weiner arrived at LinkedIn, he set the drumbeat of compassionate management “person by person,” Hoffman says. Weiner met one-on-one with each employee, who, at that time, numbered 330. On CBS This Morning, shortly after he was ranked on Glassdoor among the top 10 CEOs in the country, Weiner spoke about the importance of compassion as a leadership model, saying that “it’s really become a first principle — not only for myself but for a lot of us at LinkedIn.”
It’s important to recognize that a compassionate work environment doesn’t equate to a soft one. In fact, compassionate directness — a cultural value that empowers employees to give feedback, speak up, and address pain points — is key to a company’s ability to grow, scale, and achieve ambitious goals. Weiner adds that compassionate management is about putting yourself in other people’s shoes. “There’s a whole litany of reasons people may behave the way they do,” he says, and when leaders take time to understand their employees, they can create a more collaborative work environment. And this thought exercise doesn’t end with your immediate teammates. Weiner adds, “when you start to compound that and multiply that throughout an organization, not just employee to employee, but you think about all the constituents within a company’s ecosystem — customers, shareholders, the press, analysts — it can really create a lot of value.”
In order to practice compassionate management, try setting up an entry interview with your direct reports to learn more about what’s important to them — both in and out of the workplace. Then, schedule consistent one-on-ones so you can keep the conversations going.