What is compassionate leadership and why does it matter in the workplace?

According to the Center for Compassionate Leadership, “Compassionate leadership consists of treating those you lead with compassion in all situations and creating a culture of compassion that supports the flourishing of everyone within that culture.”

Compassionate Leadership is the practice of using your head and heart to inspire and influence people so they can, in turn, inspire and influence others. There are two distinct qualities of compassion: understanding what another is feeling and the willingness to act to alleviate suffering for another.

Compassionate Leaders can practice sympathy, empathy and compassion as needed at work. There are distinctions in their definitions that need to be considered when leaders take on the approach of leading with compassion.

  • Sympathy: feeling pity or sorrow for others’ misfortunes – “I feel for you”
  • Empathy: ability to understand and share others’ feelings – “I feel with you”
  • Compassion: preventing or alleviating suffering – “I am here to help”

– Harvard Business Review Article: Connect with Empathy, But Lead with Compassion Dec. 2021

Everyone has the potential to be a compassionate leader. Operating from a place of compassion means having a good understanding of what the other person is experiencing and having the courage and willingness to go beyond feeling empathy and take action. Compassion occurs when we take a step away from empathy and ask ourselves what we can do to support the person who is suffering. In this way, compassion is an intention versus an emotion.

Compassion fuels positive change. Becoming a more compassionate leader gives you and your organization an advantage. Compassionate leadership could influence employees’ perception of their colleagues and organizations. Studies show that employees who believe that their leaders care about their well-being are more satisfied with their jobs and show higher organizational commitment. Experiencing compassion at work also strengthens the relationship between employees. This reduces employee turnover and increases organizational citizenship (Lilius et al. 2011).

“The foundations of compassionate leadership are the foundations of leadership: goal setting, psychological safety, trust, effective communications, and more. Beyond these basics, compassionate leadership embraces the humanity of each individual and creates a culture that supports their wellbeing. The global reset now underway demands compassionate leadership.” – The Center for Compassionate Leadership

Employees who work together with compassion are more likely to cooperate and help each other out. Leaders who encourage workplace compassion foster healthy interpersonal relationships among their employees. Compassion in the workplace allows people to recognize and appreciate each other more deeply and work to benefit the organization and its mission instead of just themselves. Being compassionate with colleagues fosters more cohesion and collaboration throughout the organization.