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Compassion and Accountability are Not Mutually Exclusive

Managers (and employees) believe that some concepts are diametrically opposed. I see this a lot with accountability. Managers think that accountability and compassion are opposed, when they are not.

Compassion and empathy are necessary for a manager to make people feel safe and appreciated. However, it does not have to come at the expense of accountability.

A common example: an employee has an unexpected issue at home (nothing serious, but it requires him to leave early that day). The next day, he comes in and says "I didn't get that report done last night like I was supposed to".

Managers think the situation calls for 1 of 2 actions. One, forgive missing the assignment because you want to be compassionate about the family issue. Two, give negative feedback in spite of the family issue because the report was late.

I actually believe that you can - and should - do both. Here is what I would say:

"I'm glad that everything at home is fine - that is the most important thing. Can I give you some feedback? Me not getting that report puts me in a bad spot for my meeting with the executive team today. It may make me give bad or unclear information that might hurt our chance at getting more funding. Next time, let me know right away that you won't get to it and I can come up with an alternate. I expect you will attend to your family, but next time can you give me a heads up so I can come up with a possible solution?"

Notice how I stress he made the right choice, but he could have done something. He could have stopped by on his way out to tell me he wouldn't get to it. Or send me an email/text. That would have let me come up with a solution.

It is possible to be compassionate and still hold people accountable.

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