One of my mentors, Brad Waggoner, cautioned me and other leaders about “misplaced compassion.” He coined the term when he observed that some leaders are unwilling to have challenging conversations with team members or make difficult decisions under the guise of “care and compassion.” For example, a leader has a consistently under-performing person on the team. Instead of having corrective conversations, the leader convinces herself that she is being compassionate and patient by not addressing the issue. But, as we know, the leader is not really being compassionate. The leader is simply using kindness as an excuse for not leading. Under the banner of “kindness” or “patience,” leaders can fail to care for the overall health of their ministries or organizations. Brad has noted that “misplaced compassion” is more likely to occur in Christian organizations or ministries because treating people well is so highly valued – as it should be. But misplaced compassion is not really treating people well. Three types of people are harmed:
When negative people are allowed to roam free on a team, the team culture corrodes. When areas for improvement in an individual are not coached, the collective competence of the team diminishes and the expectations of the team are lowered. When leaders use “care” for a person as an excuse to not confront, they are not effectively “caring” for their team.
The People the Team Serves
In ministry, and in organizations, a team of people exists for those the team serves. The team does not exist to simply be a team, but to provide ministry or service to others. Thus, those the team is designed to serve suffer when leaders fail to coach the people on their teams. Those the team are called to serve are harmed when leaders confront under the guise of compassion. The people not being treated with compassion are the people the team is designed to serve and the people the leader is ultimately responsible for.
In reality, the individual not being challenged and not being confronted is harmed too. In many cases, the person could be coached and make adjustments that make the person more effective and happier in the role. We tend to enjoy our roles more the more we effective we are in them. In some cases, the person would be much a much better fit in a different role – either on the same team or on another. What is not compassionate is letting people stay in roles where they are not making the biggest impact they can make with the one life they have been given.
We must be compassionate. Compassion must impact how we address issues and how we treat people, but ignoring issues is not compassionate.