In our turbulent world there is a pressing need to build a foundation of understanding, interconnectedness, and respect. Fundamental to this need is compassion. Unfortunately, there is a trend towards the perspective that compassion has no value in our relationships, or at worst, is a weakness. It is generally understood that compassion is integral to awareness, being present, creating respectful and trusting relationships, and understanding the perspectives of others. These are all important components for effective leadership, which makes it puzzling that compassion is so often considered unnecessary or even detrimental.

Leaders have the privilege of doing the important work of supporting and inspiring people to think and act differently. However, how much do we really know about the role of compassion in our leadership practice? More importantly, how do we continue to develop our compassion?

Compassion is a fundamental human trait, and by developing compassionate people and environments we foster collaboration and growth. Every person has emotions that have significant impact on performance and productivity. In other terms, people who are suffering emotionally will not be able to focus on doing good work. Seems simple, however, the role of the emotional wellbeing of people has been often underappreciated and undervalued within the workplace.

This has to change. Organizations can survive in the short term by employing directive or coercive styles of leadership, but eventually dissonance and dissatisfaction will take over and create fundamental damage. Conversely, organizations that support empathy and understanding open the door for energy, hope, and vibrancy among their employees. These are the very things that will drive quality work at all levels within the organization.

Leaders at all levels within an organization have the opportunity to play a central role in this process, thus creating conditions for connection, cooperation, and understanding. What can you do, as a leader, to cultivate your compassion in the workplace? Here are four steps you can take to begin to be more compassionate:

Slow down

Life is busy. It is easy to get wrapped up in all the daily tasks and routines, resulting in being overwhelmed and distracted. By slowing down and noticing more you will be more compassionate as you will have the opportunity to observe others around you. Being an observer allows you to suspend your beliefs to better understand the perspective of the other person.


Ask the person what they need. Open the door for a conversation. They will choose how much to share with you. You can be respectful of the person’s privacy, yet still show your concern for them.


Recognize that you are part of a shared experience, and that your reaction has implications for others. It is easy to jump to conclusions or pass judgment when things go wrong. Instead, practice empathy by putting yourself in the place of the other person. Chances are they are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed, just as you are. Empathy arises from understanding the other perspective.


Compassion is about action and commitment. Even simple changes can make a tremendous difference. Ask yourself what you could change in your daily routine to make a difference for another. Perhaps it is creating the opportunity for a conversation by going for coffee, or acknowledging the stress that a colleague is under and offering to take over some tasks, or being a thoughtful listening partner for the other person to share their feelings.

Compassionate leadership begins with you. Challenge yourself to make a change in your world that will make a difference for others. You never know how far the ripple effect will go.

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