Lately more and more people have been asking me what Compassionate Leadership is.

Instead of repeating myself over and over again, I thought it would make sense to write this article.

Compassion and Leadership

Let’s start with the two words that are in the title.

Compassion

To me compassion is being able to be with someone or a situation without judging it. It is about creating and holding the space for what needs attention. It is about being there as a resource that might help, but not necessarily needs to fix things.

Compassion is also not the same as sympathy or empathy, which usually weakens one of the involved parties (read my article about the difference between them). Compassion is not having pity, but seeing the strength of others and keep the focus on it.

Compassion is about being equal as human beings. In the workplace this means that we make a distinction between having different roles (with different tasks and decision-making responsibilities) and being equal as a human being.

Leadership

Leadership to me is having a vision, creating energy, inspiring others, being a change agent, a coach and a facilitator.

So, it is something else that managing a team or an organization. Managing means getting results with the available resources. It is about organizing, planning, processes and procedures.

When you search for the definition of leadership on the Internet, leadership and management are often represented as opposites of each other. While in my opinion they are complementary.

Someone can be both a leader and a manager. Small business owners and entrepreneurs need to be both.

What is often noticed in larger companies is that most people have more managing qualities than leadership ones since the latter weren’t developed in the education system nor in the workplace.

Compassionate Leadership is about Balance

The people who have increased both their compassion level and leadership skills, are called Compassionate Leaders.

A Compassionate Leader is someone:

  • Who is open minded.
  • Who balances:
    • Masculine and feminine energy (whether they are a man or a woman).
    • Technology and humaneness.
    • Doing and being.
    • Down-to-earthness and spirituality.
    • Fun and getting stuff done.
  • Who is vulnerable (which is a source of strength to be present with someone).
  • Who is focused on personal development to raise to their own consciousness and that of their organization.
  • Who is curious about differences and offers a safe space for them to be present.
Compassionate Leadership is about Balance

In an era where we see a transition out of dominant masculine energy, Compassionate Leadership is a balancing factor. So, it is not about going from one extreme (dominant masculine energy) to another (dominant feminine energy). It Is about balancing both energies.

For me the word “compassion” has a more feminine energy and the word “leadership” a more masculine energy. So together they represent this balance.

The Definition of Compassionate Leadership

Definition of Compassionate Leadership

My definition of Compassionate Leadership is:

“The ability to take yourself, individuals, teams and organizations

to a higher level of performance and well-being

in a safe and stimulating way

when tensions occur.”

There are several elements in this definition, so let’s explore them to get more clarity.

1. “… yourself, individuals, teams and organizations … ”: compassionate leadership plays a role on all these levels and beyond. It will have ripple effects to the local community, region and even the world.

2. “… to a higher level of performance and well-being … “: compassionate leadership is about both results and well-being. They are not trade-offs, but catalysts for each other.

3.“… in a safe and stimulating way …”: compassionate leadership provides safety and support on the one hand and challenges on the other hand. It depends on the situation and the vibe of the person or team (see below).

4.“… when tensions occur …”: compassionate leadership doesn’t ignore tensions (like most people do because they don’t like the energy), but instead use them as drivers to increase results and well-being.

Four Vibes

To make the dimension of “performance and well-being” a bit more tangible and visual, I have created the concept of “vibes”.

There are four vibes:

  • Negative: people complain, blame others and are defensive.
  • Neutral: the job gets done, but not much more.
  • Positive: people are enthusiastic and work towards goals, but the full potential is not reached yet.
  • Inspiring: there is a contagious excitement and focus on both results and fun/well-being.

If people are not at least in the positive vibe, they are not ready to embrace change (yet) and really commit to the project or new ways of working like agile or self-organizing teams.

Four Vibes

High vibes (positive and inspiring) have these benefits:

  • Faster problem-solving.
  • Increased productivity, efficiency and effectivity.
  • Faster spotting of opportunities.
  • Increased cooperation.
  • Co-workers love coming to work.
  • Attracting and keeping top talent (despite lower wages or less benefits).
  • More openness to change.
  • More fun.
  • Increased job satisfaction.
  • Team members take on more responsibilities and ownership.
  • Inspiring for the ecosystem.

Low vibes (negative and neutral) have these disadvantages:

  • The lower the vibe, the more time is spent
    • To look out for potential (psychological) threats.
    • In actions and discussions to protect oneself.
  • Other disadvantages:
    • Projects go over time and budget.
    • Low performance.
    • Team members don’t take any responsibility or ownership.
    • Co-workers are not available because of illnesses, burn-outs, bore-outs.
    • Top talent is lost.
    • Co-workers take their negative vibe home where they infect their family and friends.

The two axes in the visual above are: feeling safe and feeling supported. This relates to the part of the definition “… in a safe and stimulating way …”.

Compassionate Leadership takes these axes and vibes into account:

  • In the negative and neutral vibe this means creating a comfort zone.
  • In the positive and inspiring vibe this means challenging someone to leave their comfort zone.

Compassionate Leadership Adds An Extra Dimension

Compassionate Leadership Adds an Extra Dimension

In my opinion Compassionate Leadership doesn’t replace leadership styles, but adds a dimension to it.

Or makes them more actionable.

For example, nowadays many organizations are embracing Servant Leadership. Especially when they have adopted agile ways of working or self-organizing teams.

What I have noticed is that those organizations lack the tools and methods to deal with tensions.

That’s where Compassionate Leadership with the D.U.E.T. framework to transform tensions adds value (see below).

Tensions

There are three kinds of tensions:

  • Practical or process tension: e.g. no Internet access, meetings that go on for hours and drain energy, orders that are delivered too late or projects that go over time and budget.
  • Personal tension: e.g. not feeling able to do what is expected, low self-esteem, feeling resistance to change, dread giving presentations or getting stress because goals are not reached (e.g. a sales target or quit smoking).
  • Interpersonal tension: e.g. not getting along with a colleague, manager, customer or supplier; having conflicts with them or not feeling comfortable in their company.
Tensions and Compassionate Leadership

Most people haven’t learned how to solve personal or interpersonal tensions. That’s why they pretend those tensions are not present. Or they vent these tensions in way that hurts others or pulls down their own self-esteem.

Practical tensions are also dealt with in a way that causes extra tension (often at another level). For example:

  • By blaming a colleague from the IT department when the Internet is down, an interpersonal tension is created.
  • By blindly following those that have the loudest voice, a solution is chosen that costs more time than necessary. This creates a practical tension because other tasks or projects are postponed and often also interpersonal tensions since the introverts were not asked to voice their solution, which could lead to a personal tension (e.g. not feeling worthy).

Transforming Tensions using the D.U.E.T. Process

The four-step D.U.E.T. process consists of a set of short, but powerful techniques that are designed to transform the particular tension at hand and if necessary, its roots.

These are the four steps:

  1. Detect and face the tension.
  2. Understand and solve the tension.
  3. Embrace and transform the root of the tension.
  4. Take action.
DUET process

For all techniques there is special attention to:

  • Incorporating safety and security in order to avoid the creation of new tensions.
  • Short and powerful techniques that can be applied in any situation and are hence compatible with any business model.
  • Applicability for everybody (in other words, there is no need for a coaching background).

Of course, not all techniques have to applied in every case. It depends on the situation and the desired vibe transition (e.g. from neutral to positive vibe). However, for leaders and coaches it is helpful to know the whole toolkit and be able to increase the vibe in any situation (or at least make sure it doesn’t decrease).

On this page you can read which problems are solved by each of the techniques of the D.U.E.T. model and which results you can expect.

Compassionate Leadership: Coaching and Facilitating

The focus of Compassionate Leaders is to coach and facilitate their team(s) to the inspiring vibe.

On the one hand this comprises having a toolbox to transform tensions (like the D.U.E.T. framework).

On the other hand, it is: not being a bottleneck for the teams.

This means that Compassionate Leaders have increased their awareness about their own strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires, qualities and shadow sides, fortes and blind spots, conscious and unconscious patterns.

In other words, they have entered on the journey of personal development.

Although this might sometimes feel like a scary enterprise in unknown waters, they have experienced that it makes them stronger and that it raises their own vibe.

To make this journey easier and lighter, we have created the Compassionate Leader Pathway (which we use in our group program and personal coaching programs) to progress step by step in the direction of being a true Compassionate Leader.

The Compassionate Leader Pathway for Compassionate Leadership

The result?

You will experience more freedom in your professional and personal life because you will be free from the distractions, preferences of others, and protective patterns. You will live in a higher permanent state of compassion.

The consequence is that it will be much easier to cope with any situation that presents itself, no matter how tough it may seem at first.

If you are interested in Compassionate Leadership, then download the free New Guide for Business Owners & Managers to Increase Ownership without Worrying about Results, the free e-book “5 Most Overlooked Dynamics that Impact Agile, Self-Organizing and Traditional Teams” or join the free Compassionate Leader Community.