Don’t Call My Leadership Compassionate

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

A few weeks back a colleague of mine was telling me about a podcast he had listened to about compassionate leadership and that he realized that was the approach I took and why it had made me successful at rallying people and getting buy-in to initiatives I was working on. It caught me a bit off-guard at the time and I think I responded with “OK, it sounds like an interesting podcast” because I wasn’t quite sure about being labelled a compassionate leader.

"my own bias put it in cliché category or too “Oprah” to be credible"

I mean what kind of manly label is compassionate? As a Gen X exposed to Baby Boomer leadership that would be the last thing I would ever be called, perhaps an industrial revolution worthy grunt, but certainly, not compassionate. It got me thinking more and more abut how I have covered the topic in my business classes or relayed it in leadership training and coaching but my own bias put it in cliché category or too “Oprah” to be credible in my research and evidence-based mindset.

So here I sit and write, still unsure and looking up multiple definitions and, wait just a minute, this may be true. I talk about self-awareness as the foundation for performance and leadership to allow you to know yourself which, in turn, allows you to know others, and here I am questioning all I have learned, taught and understand about myself. It turns out I may have subtly glossed over the phrase “Compassionate Leader” because of the way it sounds, while in principle it is the essence of everything I believe in.

As a consultant and coach with a deep curiosity for human performance and maximizing potential, I learned early that understanding people deeply was the key to success. This led me to continued study of neuropsychological concepts and principles and off and on-again pursuit of my doctorate with those interests in mind.

To be successful in influence, you must be deeply aware of yourself, but also deeply aware of the people you interact with in order to understand what they need and to support them to work through their challenges and barriers to performance. Compassionate leadership? Absolutely it is, but compassionate leadership was not the placeholder in my mind for the approach that I take. Perhaps, with everything, there is also a continuum of compassionate leadership and compassionate leadership stuck in my mind as kumbaya circles and fluff.

It is easy to just tell someone to do something , and at the transactional level this may work, but for true, deep, meaningful change with buy-in and ownership in which results are owned by the individual, they need a little engagement and understanding which is labeled as compassionate leadership. Consider a couple of definitions:

Compassionate leaders are those who lead from within, those who have the ability to inspire others through encouragement and empowerment. When you treat people with

compassion they never forget. You cultivate people who want to work for you not because of what you do but because of who you are.

Compassionate leadership recognizes that every team member is not only a significant individual but also an essential thread in the fabric of an entire organization. They strive to enhance the happiness and well-being of their people by supporting them and giving them what they need to excel.

Am I a compassionate leader? I guess it is at least in my bag of tricks and I naturally lean toward pieces of it in my lifelong search for understanding of people, but never really labelled it as such. I think situational leadership may be more appropriate, in which you adapt and apply varying leadership styles based on varying situations. I am also not a big supporter of self professing your leadership style because it seems counter intuitive to being self-aware. Maybe hearing this from someone externally was just what I needed to deepen my reflection and understanding. What type of leader do you think you are and have you labelled it?

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