I recently interviewed Scott Shute, Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn on his thoughts about compassionate leadership. With CEO Jeff Weiner at the helm, the company has made compassion a key priority – as cultural and leadership norms. Scott is charged with defining, building and implementing compassionate leadership for every employee to own company wide.
Q. How did compassionate leadership come about at LinkedIn and how did you become its champion?
We like to say we’re part of the “compassion revolution.” This is new territory for the business world; there’s no roadmap – which makes it challenging and exciting.
When Jeff introduced the notion of compassionate leadership to LinkedIn, it opened the door for me to introduce employee meditation and mindfulness programs. As more employees got involved, I spent more and more hours building these programs and other compassion-led initiatives, and I eventually moved from operations to this new role.
This is my dream job. Meditation has been a part of me since I was a teenager growing up in rural Kansas. By marrying my personal and professional interests in compassion and operations I bring my whole self to work, which is an important outcome of compassionate leadership.
So, your job is to “operationalize” compassionate leadership at LinkedIn?
Exactly.And it’s a criticalrole here because we see compassion as a strategic advantage. It’s a great way to build as a person, as a team, as a company and a business. We see it as a building block for success. Given our mandate is to provide economic opportunity to the world’s professionals, we believe we’re in a position where we can make a difference.
Wedefine compassionate leadership in three parts — an awareness and deep understanding of others, a mindset of wishing the best for others and the courage to take action. Our goal is to make everyone at LinkedIn a compassionate leader.
It’s my job to pose challenging questions that will help us create an environment that enables compassion to thrive in every aspect of our company. What does compassionate leadership look like for 14,000 employees? How do we thread compassion into every system we have? How do we treat each other? How do we sell? How do we build products? How do we use compassion to best support diversity and inclusion? We haven’t cracked the code yet, but we’re making progress.
Give me some examples that show how you’ve successfully integrated compassion into LinkedIn’s culture?
I’m very excited about how we’ve systematized ways to free up employees to practice goodintentions and enjoy more personal time – both key to compassionate leadership.
I co-lead a workshop on how to practice our Three Skills of Compassionate Leadership. These exercises show employees how to act on their good intentions, which we consider the starter pack for compassion. Studies show that time-pressured employees often push aside their good intentions to meet deadlines – particularly in high-performing cultures like ours. With this new system, we foster the freedom for us as individuals and as an organization to practice compassion in our daily interactions.
In addition, we’ve created “open calendars” for all employees; we shut down the company during the weeks of 4th of July and Christmas. This gives everyone free time to think, to rejuvenate – to be mindful of their own compassion, personally and professionally. No email allowed; everyone comes back to an empty inbox. A very different experience from a week’s vacation. LinkedIn takes the week off. You take the week off.
Tell me about LinkedIn’s Compassion Award. What’s the story behind it and what’s the hope for the future?
Our Compassion Award is all about fueling the conversation around compassion. We sponsored this award to seek out, highlight, and help leaders who are cultivating compassion in the world. We want to learn from them, to be inspired by what’s out there and to start to codify compassionate leadership practices.
We received hundreds of submissions, and we reviewed every single one. Almost all these acts of compassion follow the same path. They start with one person taking one small action, and that small action feels so good that they take the next action and then soon it snowballs until it becomes their life’s purpose. That’s how they became a leader. It’s how I became a leader.
Every single one of us can follow that path; we just need to take one step in the life we already have, and the more of those steps we take, the better we feel, the more successful we are. It becomes a flywheel — for individuals, for teams, for companies. As you can see in this video, this year’s applicants are no exception.
The Grand Prize winner of this year’s Compassion Award was Back on My Feet, represented by Illah Schalles. Additional winners include Ashanti Branch,Founder of Ever Forward, Joe Foster, Director of Dapp Studios, and Miry Whitehill, Founder & Executive Director of Miry’s List. Honorees were announced at this year’s Compassion in Leadership Summit hosted by LinkedIn and Wisdom 2.0.
So, what does compassion look like day to day?
We now hold a 30-day mindfulness challenge for all employees worldwide. We have meditation rooms, meditation sessions all over the world. We do weekend retreats and I lead a speaker series. And compassion is part of our internal learning curriculum. For example, we are teaching managers how to have more effective conversations with employees. Externally, we think deeply about each individual member and beyond. We are asking: how do we provide economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce – in a compassionate way?
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
LinkedIn is a vanguard in compassionate leadership, but we’re also at the start of our journey. The more we practice compassionate leadership, the more I see its benefits play out in real life – for individuals and companies alike. I get excited about what could be. My biggest challenge is just focusing on what do I need to do immediately. What’s my one small step I can do today?
What is the best thing about your job?
I get to talk about mindfulness and compassion all day long in this role. By marrying my focus on compassion with my skills in operations, I can be authentic and purposeful at work, which is what we’re all looking for. If you ever get a chance to create your dream job that includes all your most passionate interests and somebody agrees to pay you for that, you should take that job!