top of page

4 Key needs of compassionate leaders

Self-compassion to sustain compassionate leaders

What makes a good leader?

Let’s start by asking a question about yourself as a leader,

When you turn up in the room, do your team feel oppressed and observed, or do they feel strengthened and appreciated?

Great leaders are often described as being in service of their teams. The facilitators of others. The enablers of people whose very presence increases the team’s sense of ability to succeed.

Beyond the positive experience of this type of leader in a team, evidence suggests that this also underpins the effectiveness of a leader. The main predictor of leadership effectiveness is the ability of a leader to invite, enable and receive feedback from the team (upwards feedback). This being indicative of a leader who is in touch, listening and joined up with the team in their work.

We can name the leadership style that might best facilitate upwards feedback as being ‘compassionate leadership’. One definition of compassionate leadership is,

Compassionate leadership in practice means leaders listening with fascination to those they lead, arriving at a shared (rather than imposed) understanding of the challenges they face, empathising with and caring for them, and then taking action to help or support them.

I can bring to mind leaders of this type, who feel open, receptive, and responsive to the experience of the team. It is a model of leadership I aspire to, and in fact find too easy on occasions — being able to turn up for others and eager to enable my team to meet their challenges as equipped and supported as possible — at a cost to myself.

What strikes me in this definition and in the context of leading during crisis or pressure — is the absence of describing where a leader is compassionate to themselves. Good leadership is very often framed through the lens of behaviours to the team, without reference to what a leader needs to be present in this way.

This may seem a strange idea to raise to the well-read leader, but I too often meet leaders who are exhausted and stressed, in a role where they are regularly arriving for their team, listening and enabling. These behaviours can inflate to consume the life of a well-meaning leader, who increasingly turns up for the organisation and reduces their presence in their own life and own wellbeing.

What I have witnessed, and experienced is the need to arrive compassionately, for yourself.