Three ways to be a more compassionate leader

December 5, 2018

Three ways to be a more compassionate leader

Some people say that it’s tough at the top. The same people also say that you need to be ruthless to get there. But according to Terri Bozkaya, aggression isn’t actually a desirable trait for leaders.

What I think we can all agree on, though, is that leading with compassion is a strong way to lead. And so, I’ve been talking to people who remember leaders who were particularly compassionate. I hope that you might find their memories useful, to help you become a more compassionate leader yourself.

Being compassionate does not mean being a pushover

Being compassionate means a lot of things to a lot of people. However, a common misconception is that ‘being compassionate’ means ‘being a nice pushover’. It doesn’t mean this, at all.

This is what Psychology Today says that being compassionate is NOT:

  1. Giving people what they want
  2. Sacrificing yourself
  3. Being constantly gentle
  4. Expecting a reward
  5. Liking everyone

Of course, being compassionate will sometimes include some of the above. But by definition, compassion is simply “pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”.

And here are three examples that I hope will help you to be a more compassionate leader.

1. Lead with both actions and words

Some people say you should lead by example. Others take a more “do as I say not as I do” approach. But actually, a truly compassionate leader will lead with both their actions and their words.

David Reischer, CEO of, has fond memories of a great leader who did just this.

“It is important to have a manager that acts as a leader through example” says David. “The best manager I ever had left an indelible imprint on me through her leadership style of always keeping me engaged in her process. But she would also walk me through her thought process, and explain the analytics behind her approach.”

Leading with actions shows that you are not asking a person to do something that you would not do yourself. But talking them through your actions, shows consideration for the confusion and unease that can come from simply blindly following another person.

2. Remove the fear from risk-taking

Almost everybody has a good idea (or three) rattling around their head. But people without compassionate leaders can be afraid to voice them, for fear of humiliation or retribution. And ideas that never get voiced, never get put into action.

“An early manager I worked with was a towering man – at least 6’6” – but quite introverted” recalls Alex Robinson, General Manager at Team Building Hero. “The biggest lesson he taught me was that it’s okay to take risks. Not only would I not be punished, but I would be rewarded for an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Alex remembers developing a framework for hiring that could have saved a lot of time and money, but which ultimately proved ineffective. The fact that he was not punished, but praised, really stuck with him. And the mentality of ‘it’s OK to take risks’ stays with Alex to this day, and has helped him get to where his is now.

3. Care about people’s personal lives

It’s easy to forget that outside the office, people have real lives and real struggles. Showing compassion here can really leave a huge impact on a person’s future. Carol Gee, author and owner of A Feast Of Words, remembers how a previous employer truly demonstrated compassion and empathy, when her husband suffered the first of two heart attacks.

“New to the Atlanta area, and with no immediate family in the area, I felt alone and frightened” she says. “Waiting in the cardiac surgery waiting room, I looked up to see my employer entering. There the two of us quietly sat while awaiting my husband’s surgeon to come out and speak to me.”

Carol says that it is kind, simple actions such as this, which taught her that you can be strong, compassionate and caring in business. And today, Carol continues to try and pay that forward.

Why a fear-based approach to leadership does not work

Maybe you don’t want to be a more compassionate leader. Maybe this is because you don’t much care either way. Or maybe it’s because you’re sold on the idea that you can only lead a team through fear and humiliation.

Well, I’d like to talk to you about a dead squid. One that a Manchester-based call centre used to drop onto the faces of under performers.

Are you curious? Good. Then read my article: Can humiliation in the workplace improve employee performance?

Stay ahead with HR

Get free HR insights, expert tips and exclusive interviews, and start making more impact at work

Please enter a valid email address

See People HR in action

View our short video demo

Get started absolutely free

No credit card required

Talk with an expert to learn how People HR could help your organisation