Employee Experience

Compassionate Leadership

3 Mins read

For me Compassionate Leadership is often the missing piece when discussing workplace wellbeing, all the wellbeing interventions in the world will not make a difference if you are working in a toxic culture.  

We are seeing an increase in stress, burnout, and resignations all of which can be impacted by leadership styles. Compassionate leadership enhances creativity, innovation, and team cohesion. 

Let’s explore the terms:

Compassion – being able to be with someone or a situation without judging it. Creating and holding the space for what needs attention and taking action. 

Leadership – having a vision, creating energy, inspiring others, being a change agent, a coach, and a facilitator.

Managing – getting results with the available resources. Organising, planning, processes, and procedures.

You can see the difference between process driven managers and developing, nurturing leaders. They listen to understand and develop teams rather than criticise and blame, enabling individuals and teams to thrive both emotionally and productively. 

Compassionate leadership links to psychological safety which is the shared belief that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks as a group. Everyone feels able to share opinions, be vulnerable & speak up without fear of repercussions. Creating an environment where we learn from mistakes rather than look to blame. This in turn saves time and energy, people are not trying to hide or minimise errors or stay stuck in unhealthy, unproductive patterns due to fear. 

Wellbeing & performance

Google amongst other organisations feels PS/CL are the most important factors in high-performing teams, enabling individuals to feel valued and respected. 

They have shown its impact on performance and reduction in sickness and presentism. It makes sense if people feel listened to, empowered, and valued they are more likely to find work rewarding which leads to improved results. 

Self Compassion

To be a compassionate leader you need to build awareness of self and start with self compassion. This can be challenging, we all find it much harder to be compassionate to ourselves than others. It could be saying it is ok not to be perfect, not to have all the answers. Or noticing your boundaries, are you regularly working late, is that being self compassionate and does that impact your team as they may feel they need to copy your behaviour? Dr. Kristen Neff has some excellent resources to practice self-compassion. 

Key traits of a compassionate leader

  • Active listening and non-judgemental communication
  • Curiosity and an open mind
  • Treats everyone with dignity and respect
  • Encourages autonomy and innovation 
  • Embraces a learning, and development culture 
  • Influences rather than dictates 

If you want to start exploring areas for your development as a compassionate leader this Questionnaire is a good place to start.

Actions speak louder than words

Saying I want an open culture and then going ahead with a change without gaining input is not going to foster trust, essential for compassionate leadership 

  • Acknowledge your mistakes
  • Try to be open to opinions that differ from your own
  • Ask for upward feedback
  • Present yourself as approachable and encourage team members to ask questions

Encouraging active listening and curiosity in team meetings. 

  • Leave phones and laptops at the door during meetings
  • Show understanding by repeating what was said. “What I heard you say is ______. Is that correct?” This shows you want to understand their perspective. It also allows team members to clarify if you misunderstood. 
  • Encourage people to share more by asking questions
  • If certain individuals rarely speak during meetings, actively ask them for their opinion or discuss before how they would feel most comfortable being involved. 

Learn from mistakes

  • Instead of pointing the finger “What happened and why?” ask “How can we make sure this goes better next time? What can we learn?” Notice the focus on the collaborative language- the use of we. 
  • We often look at things from our lens, but approaching them from a different angle can help bring perspective, asking for different viewpoints builds a fuller picture. 
  • Encourage peer feedback and learn how to respond. Rather than seeing criticism, can it strengthen and build upon ideas and processes?

Be the change you want to see

  • Lead by example if you want to reduce team stress a lunch break is essential, there is no point encouraging the team to do this if you work through yours.
  • Share praise and gratitude regularly, especially for the small things that we often miss. Utilise this as part of 121’s and team meetings to build connections and encourage others to do the same. 

Compassionate Leadership can radically change workplaces, anyone can practice its components and make a difference whether they are in a leadership position or not. We can all lead by example within our teams. Our infographic on compassionate leadership is a great way to keep the key traits in your mind. 

Further Reading:

ChatGPT in Human Resources
Recruiting university graduates directly – is it a good idea?
Open Enrollment Checklist for Employees

2 posts

About author
Mental Health & Wellbeing expert and the founder of Way to Wellbeing
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