Faculty News

How Self Compassion Helps Leaders and Teams

How self compassion helps leaders and teams featuring professor Susan Ashford, PhD

By Samantha Stante and Erica Colaianne

Susan Ashford, the Michael and Susan Jandernoa Professorship in Management and Organization at the Ross School of Business, joins this episode of Michigan Minds to talk about her research, which aims to help people become maximally effective in their work settings, with an emphasis on self-leadership, proactivity, change from below, leadership, and its development.

As a leadership effectiveness and development expert, Ashford’s work was recently featured in an article for Michigan News about self compassion. The article that references a study Ashford co-authored with colleagues from the University of Florida outlines the ways in which being self compassionate can help not only leaders, but their team as well.

“The article started from the observation that though we like to talk about leadership as if it’s something everyone aspires and hopes to do, it actually is somewhat fraught as there’s various risks… We studied the potential impact of taking a more self compassionate stance towards yourself and the challenges you face —and we were wondering whether that might play a role in helping people to lead more and lead more effectively,” she says.

Ashford explains the study’s findings, stating that leaders who exemplified self compassion had a positive impact on themselves and their team. Based on these findings, Ashford shares insight on steps that people can take towards recognizing their strengths and becoming more self compassionate as leaders.

In addition to this study, Ashford has recently published the book, The Power of Flexing: How to Use Small Daily Experiments to Create Big Life Changing Growth. Ashford explains that the book sprouted from her work on leadership and helping people to develop competencies as leaders — highlighting topics related to her research areas of goal setting, leadership and development, and confronting challenges.

“Along the way of writing the book it got expanded to be not just about leadership, but about all the ways in which we need to grow our personal and interpersonal effectiveness. It could be you as a parent, you as a community member, you as a staff member or person working with peers; we all need to think about ways in which we can be more personally effective,” she says.

In reference to the book, Ashford explains the term “flexing” and how it can be used to develop leadership. She describes the concept as the idea that we will learn more if we flex and try different things throughout our experience when striving to achieve a goal we’ve set.

“The book invites you to set a particular specific goal, design experiments, try them out and see how they land. Then reflect on it and extract lessons. It’s a way of developing yourself that really puts the power in you rather than waiting around for someone to suggest development for you.”

She concludes with the closing ideas from the book, centering around the need to reflect on our experiences in order to really extract the lessons to be learned for future implementation.

“The first study really put leaders in that role of reflecting, but what it adds to the book is the idea that if you reflect in a self compassionate way that it pays dividends that there’s something about being kind to oneself, as you go through life’s challenges, that help you both to be better people and for others to be seen.”