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Compassionate leadership

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

What is compassion?

Compassion = empathy + helpful action

‘One definition of compassion suggests that it is a deep feeling for and understanding of misery or suffering and the concomitant desire to promote its alleviation’ (Cherry, 2014).

5 components of compassion:

  • Recognize suffering in others/self

  • Understanding the common humanity of this suffering

  • Feeling emotionally connected with the person/self who is suffering

  • Tolerating difficult feelings that may arise

  • Acting or being motivated to help the person/self

What is the compassion fade?

Compassion fade is a concept that explains the relationship of compassion and group size of afflicted person(s); the larger the group of affliction, the lower our compassion. There are many studies showing evidence for this regarding large scale relief events. For example a person is more likely to donate to an individual in despair than a nation of people following a natural disaster.

According to the compassion fade, we are most likely to have the highest level of compassion with ourselves and as our compassion goes beyond self, it decreases in the motivation to act.

Why is compassion important in the workplace?

If we recognize the compassion fade and the components of compassion, our awareness of these definitions allow us to be more attentive to connecting empathy to actions. Compassion is important in the workplace as many workplaces are social environments; there will likely be interactions between yourself and your colleagues, your team members, your managers and your clients.

Every person within our working lives, has their own collections and perceptions of reality and when they experience suffering, the managerial relationship will rely on the individual connection to act compassionately.

Within larger teams, compassion could appear more difficult, however a compassionate manager is one that make efforts to connect and understand each person on their team. They behave and lead through a relation or person-centric approach, typically having more autonomy and company resources to help support someone in a time of suffering.

Making time to meet with your team members individually and regularly is a great way to build trust and empathy. This type of relationship will improve comfortability for employees to share and/or be receptive to managerial concerns about their wellbeing.

Why should we be more compassionate?

Positive effects of compassion include:

  • Increases resilience and self-awareness

  • Improves your mood

  • Leads to more satisfaction

  • Reduces fear and depression

  • Creates a sense of deep joy

  • Generates meaningfulness

As previously mentioned, developing self-compassion is important in developing compassion for others. For sustainability, managers or company leaders, should treat themselves with the same compassion they would want from someone else or give to someone else.

Effects of self-compassion:

  • Psychological flexibility through questioning ones owns emotions as they arise

  • Enhances our intrinsic motivation

  • Improves hedonic and eudemonic wellbeing

  • Encourages courage, gratitude, appreciation and forgiveness

  • Increase of love and connection within and with others

Further Information:

  • Cherry, K. (2016, April 16), "Can People Learn to Be More Compassionate?" Retrieved from

  • Friedman, H. H., & Gerstein, M. (2017). LEADING WITH COMPASSION: THE KEY TO CHANGING THE ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE AND ACHIEVING SUCCESS. Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management, 5(1), 160-175.

  • Haik J, Brown S, Liran A, Visentin D, Sokolov A, Zilinsky I, & Kornhaber R. (2017). Burnout and compassion fatigue: Prevalence and associations among Israeli burn clinicians. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 13, 1533-1540.

  • Singer, T., & Klimecki, O. M. (2014). Empathy and compassion. Current Biology, 24(18), R878. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.06.054

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