Mercy in the workplace

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Pope Francis once said, "A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just." Taken in the context of the confessional or even the church's outreach efforts to the poor, his words resound clearly. But in the often dog-eat-dog business world, mercy might not seem to have a place with maximizing profits and watching the bottom line.

In Lead with Mercy: The Business Case for Compassion (Lead With Mercy Publishing, 2015), Robert Goodson draws on his more than 20 years of experience as a student, Army officer and executive to make the case for managers to demonstrate mercy in the business world. A parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale and graduate of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, he argues "there is indeed a place for mercy and compassion in business; and not only is there a place for such leadership, but it can lead to a successful, profitable business."

Goodson proposes a five-element framework for leading with mercy: defining mercy; earning the right to lead; assuming responsibility and accountability; providing clarity of vision; and leading from one's own heart. Each chapter describes one element and provides self-evaluation questions for the reader to use in considering his own business style.

Mercy is defined as "compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power." For persons in positions of authority, Goodson argues that such a definition encourages the "human" side of business, whereby workers can feel greater motivation and loyalty. But Goodson cautions managers that they must be sincere: "While you may be given the authority to lead, no one can be given the right to lead. You have to earn it."

Earning the right to lead goes hand-in-hand with leading by example, a lesson in humility demonstrated by Our Lord when He washed the feet of the apostles. Goodson recognizes that at times, tough business decisions must be made to cut expenses, but he suggests that laying the weight of such decisions fully on the shoulders of lower-level workers does not demonstrate that a manager is willing to share in the burden. He illustrates leading by example during downsizing by suggesting substituting cuts in travel expenses or senior executive salaries before terminating positions.

Goodson stresses the importance of a leader showing mercy by deciding to be accountable for his people rather than just being responsible: "In short, if you are responsible, you are very personally involved (in the work). … As an accountable leader, you define what to do rather than doing it … Such a leader must rely and trust in the ability of others to accomplish the tasks at hand." He argues that people who are led with compassion are more productive, more willing to take risks and consider new solutions to problems, more trustworthy and more trusting. "People led with mercy are then arguably more responsible," he says.

Having a clear vision helps a manager lead with mercy. Goodson argues that employees will be more willing to "go the extra mile" for a leader who shares with them the focus and direction of the company/office/business. An effective leader shows mercy by paying attention not only to the bottom line but also to the customers and the product.

The final element of the framework for leading with mercy, leading from the heart, actually involves love. Goodson offers that effective leaders demonstrate a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional type of love that shows they truly want to serve. A leader shows mercy and compassion by sincerely recognizing, encouraging and celebrating his people.

Goodson's book is a fairly easy read at 63 pages and is written for a secular audience but with clear influences from his own faith. A self-described "big Pope Francis fan," Goodson offers a timely book on leading with mercy since the pope announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning in December. Frequently speaking on the subject of mercy, Pope Francis once offered an image of Jesus in which all the elements in Goodson's book can be recognized: "In His mercy, He never tires of stretching out His hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell Him of our weakness, so that He can grant us His strength." It is clear: Jesus is the ultimate example of leading with mercy.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015