The value of compassion is well acknowledged in life, yet it’s seldom regarded as the driving force of leadership.  Leaders are more commonly referred to as ‘resilient’, ‘results-driven’ and ‘business minded.’ However, it is becoming more and more evident that workplaces that fail to value compassion in leaders will struggle to attract and retain top talent and be employers of choice.

What is Compassionate Leadership?

Compassion is about being empathetic towards another person and taking action to alleviate the person’s suffering or pain. It is the ‘taking action’ part that is relevant for leaders. A compassionate leader understands others, cares for others and has a genuine desire to help others.

What are the qualities of a compassionate leader?  

An essential quality of any compassionate leader is empathy. An empathic leader attempts to understand the perceptions and experiences of another person. This doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with them, but they strive to view the world from the point of view of another. This understanding filters through to their followers, creates a culture of trust and respect and decreases defensiveness and conflict. Compassionate leaders communicate openly and are open to learning from others. They continually seek feedback and believe growth is a team effort.

A compassionate leader helps his/her team in removing workplace barriers. By helping team members face and solve problems, such a leader understands the daily challenges that each member experiences. A compassionate leader establishes an ethical code of conduct, articulates this to their team members, and holds them accountable for upholding the same standards.

Compassionate leaders make themselves available to their team, they form positive connections and encourage team collaboration.  They are mindful of their behaviour and their emotions. They foster a culture of positive thinking which boosts wellness, productivity and morale. Compassionate leaders are not afraid to reveal their vulnerable side, they express heartfelt consideration with ease and convey doubts and feelings of fear, which builds trust and deeper connections. Compassionate leaders exhibit passion and communicate their vision to others in a way that motivates, energises and builds hope for the future.

A Business case for Compassionate Leadership

Compassion is not always regarded as a relevant component of corporate performance, yet it can have a significant influence on employees, clients, leaders and the success of the organisation.  Compassion is the foundation for positive working relationships.  As a leader you will fail to engage your team if they don’t believe you care. Compassion makes team members feel valued and supported, it reduces stress and increases loyalty, morale and job satisfaction levels. A study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University revealed that employees who are elevated by a leader’s compassion become more loyal to the leader. Compassion in the workplace connects employees psychologically and fosters stronger bonds between co-workers. Employees who experience compassionate leadership are more likely to remain committed and loyal in the long term. Compassion means that employees will be more willing to align themselves with goals set by the leader and compassionate companies encounter fewer incidences of dissent, low morale or dissatisfaction.

Compassion improves the health and overall well-being of all and strengthens employee relationships. This increases organisational citizenship and reduces employee turnover. A good example of this is call center organisation, Appletree. Appletree’s CEO introduced a compassion initiative, and as a result, they experienced a staff turnover drop of more than 60% in just six months. Compassionate leadership decreases psychological distress in employees and positively contributes to lowering cases of absenteeism.

How to become more compassionate as a leader

The first step in becoming a more compassionate leader is to slow down. In the corporate environment, leaders become so immersed in projects, deadlines and team building that they become less observant. Taking a step back helps to develop a deeper understanding of what is going on around you.

Aim to reinforce values that encourage the establishment of strong employee relationships. Maintaining close contact with team members enables you to observe behaviour and notice any changes.  Encourage social gatherings with your team to celebrate accomplishments and build deeper connections. Opt for face-to-face conversations instead of emails. As a leader, you must act as a role model and support the compassion building process. Express concern and care towards team members and offer your support when necessary. The pillars of compassionate leadership are cognitive understanding, effective (emotional) understanding, and motivational connection. The fundamental idea behind these three aspects is that leaders are required to switch from an “I” to a “we” mindset. Embracing a ‘we’ mindset ensures that you are focusing on others, getting the best performance from each individual and continuing to develop the skills and potential of all which will bring greater outcomes and results.

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