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What Is Compassion?

Compassionate Leaders Series explores the benefits of compassion as a practice for leaders on the wellbeing and performance of the organisations. Episode 1 deals with defining and understand compassion at the place of work and in life.

Uplifting People's From Pain & Suffering.

After a breakup, there was a period where my life felt like it was crashing down on me. It was so heavy that not only I could not go to work but I could not tell my superiors I was not going. Together with a failing performance at work, this event resulted in an urgent meeting. I expected to be fired.

Pooirkavoos (2016) said that compassion arises from meeting the suffering and pain of others. It turns out my superiors were concerned about me as much as they needed things to change. As they listened, supported and mentored me, I felt cared for. Their actions gave me hope, motivation and respect to my superiors which helped me to turn things around and ignite my performance and happiness.

It Is Not About Bending Backwards

When mentioning compassion in my work with a manager, she burst out in anger telling me compassion doesn't work. She had spent a year of supporting a team member who regularly did not show up for work, did not communicate why she was absent and was always behind in performance.

Pooirkavoos (2016) argues that compassion is not simply bending over backwards to accommodate everyone. When you do that it will create anger in yourself, laxity in performance and frustration in your team. Hougaard et. al. (2020) explains that having compassion is not enough as a leader needs to be wise as well. True compassion requires us to take tough actions in a humane way.

Loving Others Like No Other

Sadghuru, a leader of 9,000,000 volunteers, is asked how is he able to manage so many people who deliver such quality work. His argument is that as a leader, he needs to make people fall in love with him and the only way to achieve this is by loving them like no other.

When dealing with large number of people, will is not enough and so you need organisation. Simon Sinek argues that to achieve this, a leader needs to first love their core team of people and train them to love the people who they are responsible for. You then keep doing this till you get to the people at the bottom.

Compassion Starts At Home

Most people would argue that they are not being paid enough for this. Fernandez (2020) argues to be able to achieve this level of being you need to develop self-compassion first. He argues this is done through:

  1. Emotional Intelligence: by learning to develop optimism & happiness.

  2. Resilience: by learning to face adversity smoothly

  3. Growth Mindset: by learning to expand yourself and your skills

  4. Integrity: by being accountable to your actions

  5. Being Kind: perhaps humanity's greatest superpower.

  6. Mindfulness: being present in the moment.


Fernandez. Stern. (2020). Self-Compassion Will Make You a Better Leader. From Harvard Business Review:

Hougaard, R. C. (2020). Compassionate Leadership is Necessary - but Not Sufficient. From Harvard Business Review:

Poorkavoos, M. (2016). Compassionate Leadership: What is it and Why do organisations need more of it? Roffey Park Institute.

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