Compassionate accountability means that feelings matter, thoughts matter and behaviour matters. The associated tools are helping physicians and surgeons deliver bad news to patients in a compassionate way, helping boards of directors lead their CEO’s more effectively, supporting negotiators do a better job, turning regrets into commitments for the future. The applications are really infinite.
“Compassion is my passion ” admits Dr Nate Regier, CEO and founding owner of Next Element Consulting. Compassion isn’t about what we do to other people, it’s what we do with them. And that life is struggle, but struggling together makes it meaningful, it makes it productive, it makes it purposeful. We don’t ever get time off when it comes to compassion, we are feeling, thinking and acting.
“You can’t nicey nice your way towards serious change, and big problems. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated. Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere” cautions Dr Nate.
How can they co-exist in full measure without compromising either one of them?
Next Element’s journey is looking for tools and strategies and techniques to have those two codes. Imagine three switches on your wall on energy flow, towards light, connection, positivity and innovation.
Full compassion cannot exist unless the switch of value, capability and responsibility are all turned on in every interaction. I convey that you are valuable, capable, and responsible.
The first switch is the switch of value. If that switch is turned on, then I give you the benefit of the doubt. I trust your intentions. I know that you are worthwhile as a human being, and I accept treat and value you as an equal. If a switch is off, then your value is conditional.
The second switch is a switch of capability, with the spotlight on abilities, gifts, skills, hands, feet and brains. When the switch of capability is on, we include people, we involve them, we invite them to participate, we care about their ideas. We invite them to rise higher. We give them challenges. We believe in them. But when this switches off, we have limited belief in people’s capability.
The third switch is the switch of responsibility. When the switch of responsibility is on, we believe that no matter what happened before, we all have a part to play in what happens next.
But when the switch is off, we try to isolate responsibility. It sounds beautiful in theory, but is really hard to practice when I’m tired, angry, frustrated, have not had enough sleep or taken care of myself. When I know that you are worthwhile as a human being, I treat you as an equal and worthwhile. When we treat people as capable, they will rise. When we treat them as though they are responsible they can step up.
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host, Tesse Akpeki and co-host Paula Okonneh, where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional. And we hope you will walk with us in this adventure. Our guest today is Dr. Nathan Regier, and we are going to be talking with him about compassionate accountability and why it matters. I’ll tell you a bit about Nate. Nate Regier, PHD is the CEO and founding owner of next element consulting. A global leadership firm that is dedicated to bringing compassion into the workplace. He is a former practicing psychologist and an expert in social emotional intelligence, as well as interpersonal communication and leadership. Recognized as a top 100 keynote speaker. He is a process communication models certifing master trainer. He’s also an author, he has authored beyond drama, transcendent energy vampires. Another book is conflict without casualties. A field guide for leading with compassionate accountability. And his newest book is seeing people through unleash your leadership potential with the process communication model. I could go on and on, but I also want everyone to know that he hosts a podcast called “on compassion with Dr. Nate”. And he also drives a weekly blog. If that I want to say welcome to “TesseTalks”, Dr. Nate.
00:01:56 Nate: Thank you so much Paula. It’s great to be here.
00:02:00 Paula: It’s great to have you here.
00:02:03 Tesse: I am actually excited, Dr. Nate to see you. I’m a fan, a follower. I love your work, it makes such a difference. I read your books and I just think that what you bring to the world in terms of your interest, your compassion, contribution to compassionate accountability is simply awesome. So I’m quite curious about your view of compassion and why it’s important for leaders and organization these days?
00:02:31 Nate: Yeah, thank you. Truly compassion is my passion, and I would not say I’m the most compassionate person in the world by any means. There are many people more compassionate than I, but I care deeply about it and I want to help spread it. I grew up the son of missionary parents in Africa. So I was around a lot of diversity, a lot of conflict, a lot of strife, in a place where my parents were trying to be a positive presence. So I saw this struggle growing up and always wondered, there’s got to be a better way. There must be a different way for people to engage with each other when there’s differences and disagreements and diversity. So it’s been a lifelong passion of mine to find that solution, find that way. And I never really understood the full meaning of compassion until, maybe 10 years ago, when it came back into my life in a new way. And I discovered the Latin root of the word. Compassion means, to suffer with or to struggle with. And I always thought that compassion was, I go do things for people. I go help you, I go save you, I go contribute to the cause I give, give, give, give. And then the notion of struggling with someone was revolutionary for me. That compassion isn’t about what we do to other people, it’s what we do with them. And that life is struggle, but struggling together makes it meaningful, it makes it productive, it makes it purposeful. So that’s really where I am with compassion, is it’s about how we struggle with each other? And our whole mission, that next element is to bring tools and strategies and perspectives for people to be able to do that, because the world needs it.
00:04:22 Tesse: Wow. I love that kind of clarity you bring, struggling with connection, empathy, alongside people, alongside ourselves. I mean, it holds that reality for me, particularly now where people are coming out of a pandemic, that kind of compassionate accountability, suffering where, Paula?
00:04:46 Paula: I am really into audio podcasts, audio books. So of course I am, having finished listening to Nate’s book, but I am really enjoying it. When you talked about compassion, I felt it took on a different definition. You talked about suffering together, because we tend to think of compassion of feeling sorry for someone or empathy or reaching out, but suffering together, it really took on a different dimension. And that’s why I really enjoyed reading your book. So for listeners, can you go into that a little bit more and tell them what compassionate accountability is all about, because.
00:05:27 Nate: Yes. Who thought those two words could come together? Compassionate accountability. Compassionate is about being nice, and it’s about being kind, and it’s about giving people the benefit of doubt and helping them and alleviating suffering. Those are all the things I grew up with. Accountability is about holding people’s feet to the fire. It’s about making sure they do what they’re supposed to do. It’s about following through, on your promises. But as we’ve worked with leaders around the world and companies of all sizes, what we’ve discovered is two things are true. First of all, compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere ,and I first realized this when I was working with victims of domestic violence. Struggling in pain, afraid, scared. And often just clinging to this hope that if I just love him more, if I just am more patient, if I just, give him the benefit of the doubt, he will come around. And what I learned, and what we know is that never happens. That doesn’t happen. So compassion without accountability, you can’t nicey nice your way towards serious change, and big problems. But the opposite is also true. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated. Have any of you worked for a boss, who all they ever did was focus on what was wrong, and holding you accountable, and bringing the hammer down? Nobody wants to work for them, nobody wants to play for a coach like that, nobody wants a parent like that, nobody wants a boss like that. But none of us would say that we don’t want compassion and we don’t want accountability. So my struggle in our question at next element, was how can they co-exist in full measure without compromising either one of them? Because they’re both good. And that’s been our journey. We believe they have to coexist. That’s the essence of what we do is looking for tools and strategies and techniques to have those two codes.
00:07:33 Tesse: I so love that thing, you know, how you bring the two together without compromising. And often what comes to my mind, and as you know, I’m a solicitor in the UK, not practicing at the moment. But that thing we have, what we call the scales of justice and they have like the compassionate one and the other side is the accountability and keeping the scales, you know, kind of thing. That’s a picture that comes into my mind. And so I’m interested in, how a person can learn and practice compassionate accountability? How can they make it a habit, a way of doing things or thinking or behaving? How could they do that?
00:08:12 Nate: Well, I’m glad you asked, because practical application is my thing, this is what I care about. It’s ,we can talk about theories and ideas all day, but how do we change the world? How do we get into every workplace in the world? If we don’t have something that you can pick up and use right now. So, we identified that compassion is a mindset, it starts with a mindset. And the compassion mindset, imagine three switches on your wall, three electric switches there. And when all three switches are on energy flow. It flows towards light, it flows towards connection and innovation and positivity and innovation. When the switches are off, energy is blocked and we have darkness and we have strife and we have discord. And here are the three switches. This is the mindset anybody can turn on. The first switch is the switch of value. Because humans are inherently valuable. If that switch is turned on, then I give you the benefit of the doubt. I trust your intentions. I know that you are worthwhile as a human being, and I treat you as an equal. If a switch is off, then your value is conditional. It’s conditional on you being this way, or doing this or looking this way or being this color or being this gender or being this particular orientation. It’s conditional. And I stand in judgment of what those conditions are. So, the first switch has to be on, we have to believe, accept and treat people as though they are valuable. The second switch is a switch of capability. Because human beings are also capable. We are here with our abilities and gifts and skills and hands and feet and brains. So when the switch of capability is on, we include people, we involve them, we invite them to participate, we care about their ideas. We invite them to rise higher. We give them challenges. We believe in them. But when this switches off, we have limited belief in people’s capability. And we say things like, well, women aren’t cut out for this kind of work or I’m too short to play volleyball or my dad said, I’d never be able to whatever .We have all of these self limiting beliefs on ourselves and other people. And that’s when the switch is dim or turned off. And then the third switch is the switch of responsibility. Because human beings are also responsible. We’re responsible because we live in communities and we interact with one another, so we do have to care about our behaviors. And when the switch of responsibility is on, we believe that no matter what happened before, we all have a part to play in what happens next. But when the switch is off, we try to isolate responsibility. We point fingers, we blame, we accuse ourselves and we try to isolate responsibility and don’t realize that we all share responsibility for what happens next. We’re all part of that solution. So, the mindset of compassion says, that full compassion cannot exist unless the switch of value, capability and responsibility are all turned on.
00:11:18 Tesse: That’s really, so rich. Value, capability, responsibility. Paula, I see you are just in deep thought. What’s your question for Dr. Nate? I’m really not that kind of, you know. The power that compassionate accountability can actually play, if the right lens and right combination happens. What are your thought?
00:11:42 Paula: Oh well, this is kind of like your field, but I’m going to ask the question you know. I listened to compassion being value, capability, responsibility, and I was gonna ask, does that apply to non-profit boards? And I also wanted to expand it, and does that apply to for-profit organizations?
00:12:00 Nate: It applies to every human being in any role at any time. Because our definition of compassion then, goes like this. Compassion is the practice of demonstrating, that humans are valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction. So if we take it from the top, it’s the practice of demonstrating. This is a cultivated habit, and it’s not just a habit of thought, it’s a habit of behavior. We have to demonstrate that the switches are on. We have to show the light. And what are we demonstrating? We are practicing and demonstrating that the three switches are on. That you are valuable, I’m valuable. You and I are capable, and you and I are responsible. When do we do this? Every interaction .We don’t ever get time off when it comes to compassion.
00:12:48 Paula: So compassion, is a day-to-day function that we need to inculcate into our lives.
00:12:54 Nate: Every interaction.
00:12:56 Tesse: And I love that talk of every interaction. I think what I’m curious about in relation to building on Paula’s question is, I do a lot of work with nonprofit boards, and for-profit boards we have the combined non-executive directors and executive directors. it’s kind of a cleaner boundary fit. In nonprofit, you have staff sometimes volunteers, then you have the board and the board is usually volunteer led. And so there’s this inbuilt tension between paid staff as a resource ,and an unpaid board. And in the work that I do, it’s kept me busy for years because of so much conflict that goes on. What are your thoughts for these? Because I’m sure that this can, as a concept, can be useful and valuable, in how they can do more harmonious interactions and more working together.
00:13:54 Nate: Yeah, well let’s talk about conflict. Because if you gonna to put compassion accountability together, it’s kind of like new killer fusion. In fact conflict is probably the consequence of putting compassion and accountability together. Conflict is inevitable. And so many people have so much negative associations with conflict. I did. I grew up around conflict with casualties. And how many of us have associated conflict with casualties? Relationships get hurt, people get hurt, egos get hurt, feelings get hurt. So,we think that conflict is the problem, that conflict is the bad thing. So we do all of these things to avoid it. But what we’re missing is not that conflict is the problem, it’s how we use that energy. And we know what it looks like when we misuse the energy, that’s drama, right? But the question then is, well, what would it look like if we use that energy to create instead of destroy. In our company, we came to kind of a stopping point when we asked ourselves that question. Because I’m clinically trained, a lot of our other teammates. So we can understand a diagnosed drama all day long. We know how things go wrong and why they go wrong. So what do we do instead? And my fundamental belief is that diversity is part of God’s creation. That is part of the beautiful, wonderful universe we live in. It’s intended to be diverse. But here’s the problem, diversity means there’s going to be conflict. It’s inevitable. So, if diversity is a beautiful, wonderful thing, and it has a purpose, then conflict must also have a purpose. It’s not an accident. So if conflict has a purpose, how do we use it? And that’s what we realized is compassion, is how conflict creates. Compassion is the solution, to how we take that energy of conflict in a nonprofit, wherever we are. And we take all that messiness and we use it to create something amazing. And that’s where we started saying, so what is the mechanics? What are their behaviors? What are the strategies, to struggle with people to create instead of destroy?
00:16:11 Tesse: I love it. I love it. Yeah, there’s just so much richness here. You know, the compassion is a solution. It’s an approach. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of being, it’s an entry point into that kind of conflict situation or the accountability space. The regulatory space without regulatory space it’s very fixed and it’s that bit. Paula?
00:16:41 Paula: I love that as you summarize it, not summarized, but on the fact that conflict is part of life. There’s a lot of negative, well, do we call it negative energy that goes into that? But then when we bring compassion into the picture, it kind of draws all of that and the energy is utilized in a much better and much more productive way. Yeah, I know all circumstances, within our lives, within our organizations, but they’re for-profit or non-profit. That’s awesome. So we’re about to wrap up. But I wanted to know, we’ve heard this and whether there’s anything that you have to share with our listeners, like a gift, a PDF, something that they can start using, you know, so they can start applying some of what we’ve learned.
00:17:26 Nate: You know, we haven’t talked a lot about the specific strategies, but I write about it. And on my blog every week, our tips and tools to be able to put these principles into practice for you. And we do a weekly free webinars as well. But I really want to invite people to, it’s 30 minutes every week on Wednesdays here, in the central time zone in about noon. And we try in about 20 minutes or 25 minutes to bring one concept to life and make it practical, make it applied for you. And they all link back to compassionate accountability, and how we can use these principles to have conflict without casualties.
00:18:04 Tesse: Paula, I can actually say that I have been to some of Dr. Nate’s sessions. I love them. And I went and bought the books, et cetera. And I’m actually exploring ways that we can get Dr. Nate familiar with our UK audience, because this is a universal thing. The whole thing about personality differences and styles and conflict and compassion and compassionate accountability. It helps us, it’s definitely helping me in my, not just in my professional life, but in my home life as well. So yeah, it’s a lot of good stuff.
00:18:41 Nate: Well, right now around the world, these tools are helping physicians and surgeons deliver bad news to patients in a compassionate way. It’s helping boards of directors lead their CEO’s more effectively. It’s helping negotiators do a better job in Vienna, Austria. So the applications are really infinite.
00:19:02 Paula: I just was wondering how that is being applied now that we are having this hybrid workspace. How that is coming into play? I just wanted it.
00:19:13 Nate: Do I have a second to share an example?
00:19:15 Tesse: Yeah.
00:19:16 Nate: Well, let’s take a really practical situation. Let’s say during COVID now, we’ve been dealing with lots of organizations that are struggling with hybrid work environments or return to work. And how do we communicate with each other around these difficult things? Let’s say I’m a father and I’m now at home working the whole time. I have three kids at home, and my wife. And I’m working with teammates from five or six times zones. And they have their team meetings at 5:00 PM my time till 7:00 PM my time, which is when my children are tired, they’re hungry, we’re trying to have dinner, but I feel obligated to be on that call because I don’t want to let the team down. I don’t want to be perceived as not doing the work. Because I’m getting texts from my boss at 3:00 AM in the morning and I feel maybe I’m not working hard enough. How do I talk to my team about that? How do I bring up this conflict between what I want, which is to be perceived as a good team player and what I’m experiencing, which is incredible struggle focusing, at five o’clock. I’m committed to the team. So using compassionate accountability, I might start by just being honest about how I’m feeling is, I’m struggling to concentrate at five o’clock in the afternoon. Maybe I described the situation without making excuses and say, this is what happens around my house. I know we’re working with teams from across the world. And then I go and I reinforce the commitments because I’m also responsible. And I say I’m committed to being present and focused at our team meetings, so I’m curious if there’s other options for when we can meet. I’m human, I’m valuable, so are you. I’m capable of being part of the solution. I’m also responsible, which means I’m not trying to let down on my responsibilities, I’m trying to step up. But I’m doing it in a way that honors all of those. And I’m inviting my team to struggle with me, towards a solution.
00:21:04 Paula: I love it.
00:21:04 Tesse: Yeah. Workable, practical, and actually the heartfelt, yeah human. Heartwarming. Yeah.
00:21:14 Paula: Considering, as you say, it’s not just a case study, but it’s a reality. Most people can relate to that. I think it’s just so practical.
00:21:24 Nate: Or what happens in the diversity and inclusion world. I’m a white male with tons of privilege, I have no idea what the right thing to do or say is. All I know is that I feel bad, I feel embarrassed and I often feel incapable of making a difference. So what do I say after I’ve said the wrong thing? What do I say after those oops moments and I don’t know what to do? Compassionate accountability would lead me to say something like, I feel so embarrassed and incapable. I want to be part of the solution and learn from you. I’m committed to improving our relationship. How do you feel about that? That’s conflict because there’s a problem, bad things have happened. Behavior that’s been inappropriate. And I want to struggle with the person to rebuild relationships.
00:22:13 Tesse: Doctor Nate my own feedback to you is, I remember that you and I were going to speak on the 6th of January, 202.1 and I called you, and I mentioned to you what had happened with my brother Tony, who was killed in a hit and run incident. And we had a video call, and I remember you saying, you don’t have to do this now. Let’s do it another time. And you said, my heart goes out to you and what you’re going through, and I feel for what you’ve been through. And your compassion in the moment was so connecting and so warm. And with what you’ve mentioned about what is happening and we’re looking at things around diversity, inclusion and equity. What comes to my mind is just the humanity of connecting with people and knowing that we won’t always get it right. But just letting people know that we care and that we’re there. And I think that the rest follows. And some people might not take that apology if something goes out of step. But a lot of people will hear that you care, about what happens and you want to make things better.
00:23:42 Paula: Yeah
00:23:43 Nate: And I was just going to say that compassionate accountability means that feelings matter, thoughts matter and behavior matters. All three are equally important if we’re going to practice compassion. I can’t just say, Tesse, I’m so sorry for your loss, and my heart goes out to you. So then what’s our problem solving? The problem solving is we don’t have to meet today, we can do a different solution. But there’s accountability too, is that I still want to meet with you, so whenever the time is right, I’m here, and I promise to be here. We’re not just feeling, but we’re thinking and acting also. And I think that’s where the accountability comes in and things sometimes get hard. Is that we do all three.
00:24:29 Paula: As human beings, since many times, we don’t know what we don’t know. Being made aware that there is a solution through the compassionate accountability, opens up a wide swear of realizing. I think at the end of it all, we are human. And we all have these similar emotions, maybe at different times, but things as we see here, life does happen. And understanding that and using the right tools, as you said, feelings, behavior, and your thoughts apply in that. It just changes the whole scenario. People can relate to you because at some point or somewhere, we know us as a human being, something is going to happen. And I really love this. I do love it.
00:25:20 Tesse: I just wish I had met Dr. Nate’s work about 10, 15 years ago. My battle scars wouldn’t have been so deep. But this is always a teachable moment. Maybe I wasn’t, who knows. But amazing work. You’re doing awesome work. That to me, next element is awesome.
00:25:38 Nate: I remember feeling like that when I learned about ,one of the models I learned about in clinical training and I thought, oh my goodness, if I would’ve known this when I was in college, I would’ve caused so much less damage to relationships. Well, how about we turn regrets into commitments for the future?
00:26:00 Tesse: Wow.
00:26:01 Paula: And that’s what I was just about to say. It’s through those regrets now that you can hold yourself accountable and say, I am not going to do this. I’m going to teach my children or the next generation, what I did wrong, take ownership and ensure that to the best of your ability it doesn’t happen again. And that’s the way we get better. Not going to be perfect, but that’s the way we get better. So I love what you’re doing. And so as we have come to an end here, are there any reflections that you’d like to share with our listeners before we close out? Finally.
00:26:36 Nate: The compassion mindset, it sounds great in theory. It sounds beautiful. And it’s really, really hard to practice. Because when I’m tired, when I’m angry, when I’m frustrated, when I don’t get enough sleep. When I haven’t taken care of me, my switches dim, and I treat people as though that’s true. So the one piece of, I guess, advice I would share is, when in doubt, just ask yourself, how would I talk to that person if I believe they were valuable? If I believe they were capable? And if I believe they were responsible? Maybe I don’t believe it now, but how would I treat them if I did? And start there. Treat them as though they’re valuable, whether you believe it or not, because they deserve it. Treat them as if they’re capable, whether you believe it or not, because they will rise .Treat them as though they are responsible, whether you believe it or not, because they can step up.
00:27:34 Paula: True. I love the fact that you did say it is difficult, and we have to remind ourselves. I guess it’s easy to wake up in the morning and say, I’m going to spend my whole day being compassionate, employing compassionate accountability. And an hour later you’re like, was that me?
00:27:50 Nate: I think it was Mike Tyson that said, everybody has a plan until they get hit.
00:27:54 Paula: Yes. Heard that recently, and I’m like, mhmm.
00:27:58 Nate: Yeah.
00:27:59 Tesse: Mike Tyson is a, after the hit, you forget all intentions.
00:28:03 Nate: Like, what.
00:28:06 Tesse: You know, I think that was a leadership concept that he actually crashed that statement.
00:28:14 Paula: Oh boy, this has been fantastic. So to our listeners, if you have heard something there that you like, please head over to Apple podcast, Google podcast, or anywhere that you listen to podcasts and click subscribe. If you like what you’ve heard, please also write us a raving review. And if you have any questions or topics, you’d like us to cover related to leadership and governments, send us a note. Remember that note can be personal or it can be professional. And last but not least, if you would like to be a guest on the show, please head over to “tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks” to apply. Thank you, Nate.
00:29:04 Tesse: Thank you, Dr. Nate, always a pleasure, always.
00:29:07 Nate: It’s a joy to be with you. Thank you for what you’re doing and the difference you’re making in the world.
00:29:12 Tesse: Thank you.