What is Compassionate Leadership?

A leader is not defined by a job title but defined as anyone who has responsibility for the performance of another person or a group of people.  Regardless of whether your job title describes you as a leader, manager, supervisor, CEO, executive or something else; if you have responsibly for the performance of another person or group of people, you are a leader.

If your job title describes you as a leader, manager or similar and but is not responsible for the output of others, you are not the focus of this article.

The role of a leader is to elicit optimal performance from staff.

A compassionate leader is one who strives to elicit optimal performance by showing staff, respect, courteously and kindness.

A compassionate leader uses the following techniques to show respect, courteously and kindness:

  • Listen with undivided attention
  • Invest your time in your staff
  • Act with integrity
  • Inspire staff to want to stretch themselves
  • Empower staff to stretch themselves
  • Communicate to convey and receive understanding
  • Addressing underperformance quickly and kindly

A non-compassionate leader does not demonstrate respect, courteously and kindness.  Their motivating factor is to get the job done quickly even if that is done at the expense of staff welfare. The non-compassionate leader generally attempts to elicit optimal performance with a carrot and stick approach.  That is, the leader informs staff of the expectations; punishes mistakes and pays for work completed.

A non-compassionate leader may use some or all of the following techniques to get the job done quickly.

  • Direction
  • Reward
  • Punish
  • Anger
  • Humiliate
  • Fear
  • Arrogance
  • Intolerance
  • Self-promotion (especially at the expense of others)

Such tactics tend to bring about short term and narrowly focused success. 

Becoming a compassionate leader begins with your mindset.  If you decide to become a compassionate leader and have the energy and enthusiasm to do the work, your mind will find a way to achieve it.

Conversely, if you do not want to, or do not think you can become a compassionate leader, your mind will come up with all the evidence you need to prove you right.  If you take the mindset that you are too old to change style or that your staff know you as one type of leader and would not respect or believe it possible for you to change; know that this is an excuse your mind is using to prove you right.

If you take the mindset that being kind will open a space for your staff to misbehave and take advantage of you, think about why you believe that.  Could it be that you are confusing kindness with incompetence?  Ignoring poor performance is anything but kind.  It is lazy and selfish. 

Think of a leader who enters into a conversation with a challenging person believing that the person is not capable of change.  That conversation will have little impact because the leader has set them self-up to fail.  The challenging person will have picked up that leader is not confident, and their words will be dismissed as irrelevant.

The leader who is resigned to failure, may have had several conversations with the challenging individual, and been discouraged because none had resolved the problem.  It is understandable that the leader sees the past failures as reasons to expect future failures.  However, such unhelpful thinking will only serve to ensure that that the leader continues to fail. 

Imagine if an Olympic gold medal winner had given up running or swimming before they won their first race.  Every winner has a history of failure, but they generally do not enter the race with a failure mindset.  Just because this leader has not resolved the issue with the challenging individual yet, does not mean that there is no solution.  It simply means that the right solution has not been found yet.

There is absolutely no reason that you cannot be a compassionate leader.  The only reason to believe that it is not possible is fear.  Worry, nerves, tension, embarrassment, fright and anxiety are all forms or fear and often prevent people from acting in their own best interests.

Fear is great at producing excuses not to try something new.  This is true for you as well as your staff.  People who persistently criticise, object and look for all the reasons something should not be attempted, may tell you that they are being analytical; but there is a difference between constructively contributing to problem solving sessions, and endless nit-picking.  Those who constantly conclude that ‘it cannot be done’ are generally reacting out of fear.  They fear that, although the current situation might not be good, at least they understand it.  They fear that any change to the status quo could expose them as incompetent if it transpires that they are not as proficient in the new system as they were in the old. 

If you do not think you are able to change leadership styles to be more empathetic and compassionate, ask yourself, what am I afraid of?

Great leaders take calculated risks when they believe that can be successful.  Calculated risks involve sound reasoning and clever planning for the best chance of success.  The very nature of risk, however, requires an acceptance that the desired outcome may not be successful.  Great leaders learn from mistakes and continue to make alterations to the solution until the desired outcome is achieved.  Great leaders do not see mistakes as distressing but as data to apply for in future decisions. 

Changing your leadership style to be more compassionate may not always generate desirable outcomes, however if you use the results data to adjust your style for the better, the disappointment on the way to success will have been worth it. 

Learning to be a compassionate leader requires good planning and hard work and very possibly, some trial and error; however, you are settling yourself up to fail if you attempt to change unless you believe that you can succeed.

Taking action despite feeling fearful is very different to taking action when you believe you will fail.  If you attempt something that you believe you will fail at, you will be starting at a disadvantage and in all likelihood you will fail.  Your mind is very good at realising your beliefs. 

Look at the compassionate leaders you have known, are they smarter, more educated, more experienced than you?  Some might be, but others will not.  The best leaders are not necessarily the smartest, but they are usually the most confident.  If you are confident in your leadership abilities, you will be seen as a better leader which will make you more credible, more trustworthy and in turn a better leader. 

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Believing that you can be a compassionate leader requires you to recognise your true worth and your capacity to learn new things. 

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