Compassionate Leadership

Posted February 23rd, 2022 by Urban Legal Recruitment

Over the past two years, our spirits have been tested - at home and at work. Most of us have experienced increased fear, confusion, frustration, and maybe even apathy, as a result of feeling powerless in the face of both too much, and not enough, information. 

It’s during times like this that compassionate leadership can make all the difference. 

“Compassionate leadership means seeing each other as human beings and not human doings,” says Stacy Cowan, Urban Legal Recruitment founder. “Compassionate leadership is about seeking influence - not authority, and serving in a way that positively impacts not only employees, but their families, and ultimately their communities. It is a much higher calling than managing to achieve performance metrics.”

While hastened by the pandemic, our evolution to a more human-centered workplace was already underway.

Defining compassionate leadership

Let’s start by defining leadership. Leaders are not just people in charge. Brene Brown describes a leader as “any person who holds themselves accountable for finding the potential in people and processes, and has the courage to develop that potential.” 

According to Psychology Today, “Compassion is an empathic understanding of a person's feelings, accompanied by altruism, or a desire to act on that person's behalf.”

Compassionate leadership refers to a person who takes action to find the potential in people by understanding how they feel. 

Marc Lesser is the CEO of ZBA Associates, an executive development and leadership consulting company, with a client roster that includes Google, Twitter, Genentech, and Kaiser Permanente. He breaks compassion down into three core domains: 

  1. Empathy: Feeling as somebody else is feeling (however uncomfortable)
  2. Cognitive: Seeking to understand what somebody else is thinking and why they came to hold their opinion (requiring mindful listening)
  3. Motivation: Trying to take care of the concerns of others and reduce their suffering

Compassionate leadership transcends the achievement of key performance metrics. It is not about sacrificing the goals of the organization to meet the needs of the employee, but rather about understanding employee needs and aligning them with the needs of the organization. 

Why it’s important

According to McKinsey, compassionate leaders perform better and engender higher levels of engagement and loyalty. Through caring, connection, and active listening, they build more resilient, confident and committed teams. 

A study run by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute, having a harsh boss is linked to heart problems in employees. 

Compassionate leaders gently coax the best out of people by getting to know them and recognizing their individual skills, talents, passions and contributions. They establish collaborative, trust-based work environments where everyone can feel safe in sharing ideas, offer solutions and do their best work.   

How to be a compassionate leader

Practice self-compassion.

It is impossible to have genuine compassion for others without knowing, accepting, and taking care of yourself. 

Be clear on intent.

Know what outcome you are looking for and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would it feel to be on the receiving end of your message?

Visibly practice transparency.

Your guidance and feedback has the potential to elevate or break down someone’s spirit. Be candid and direct but kind. 

Know your people.

Take the time to get to understand your team members - who are they, what do they care about, what are their goals? 

Show gratitude.

Make it a regular practice to publicly praise and show appreciation for everything your team members contribute. 

Be vulnerable.

Model that it’s okay to be imperfect and how you can use mistakes to learn and grow. 

Lead from the heart.

Assume best intent from others and strive to be a positive, uplifting force. This is easier for some than others but absolutely can be learned and is worth the investment in time and energy. 

 “The leaders who get the most out of their people are the leaders who care most about their people.” – Simon Sinek

Life. Career. Opportunity Awaits. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you. 

At Urban Legal Recruitment, we have experienced, along with our clients, the impacts of COVID-19.  We’ve made the necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our team members and our clients.