Why Compassion is Important in Leadership– Graham Carter: Performance Coach and Adventure Specialist, From Here To There

We live in a world where so many people are totally engrossed in their own lives, are a slave to the grind or a slave to technology.  We live in a world where the younger generation are (as they have been since the beginning of the younger generation) criticised by their parents and grand-parents’ generations – and yet those that criticise both have the responsibility to be the ‘good parent’ they profess to be, as well as the ‘flexible parent’ they aspired to become when they were on the receiving end of the generational distaste.  This zombie like detachment is engulfing the planet, much like the latest craze sweeps through an entire community, it is worrying.  ‘Human Beings’ are sadly a rarity now and are being replace by ‘Human Doings’.


Perhaps I over dramatise this a little, and I offer my apologies to those who have read my opening paragraph with a raised eye brow and a slight sense of disgruntlement.  However, there is an element of truth in these words.  Stress, depression, anxiety and exhaustion plague society.  More and more days are lost every year to illness that has been caused by our so called modern day lifestyle.  We live in an age where the advancement of technology and its exciting potential is something many of us cannot get our heads around.  Change is happening at an alarming rate all around us.  I do believe that the rate of change is hugely different to the rate of change experienced by those who grew up before World War 2 and to a degree those who were born in the 20th Century.  I also believe that there is a link to this rapid technical evolution and out current global human predicament.


Now, I am not suggesting that previous generations had life and living sussed, or that those of us reading this post today are failing.  Like a finely tuned guitar, we need to find balance.  The string should be not too tight, not too loose but just right.  And finding that balance is hard work and requires effort.  It also requires a recognition that perhaps the way in which we are conducting our lives could be better.  I do not profess to have found that balance and I am sure I swing from sharp to flat daily, moment by moment.  However, I having been actively tuning the guitar of life for well over 20 years and I am finding that the extremes are less and less and I am hearing more readily when I need to tighten and slacking my approach.


And so to the title of this post, Why Compassion is Important in Leadership.  In the three paragraphs above, leadership is at the core.  I have chosen the word compassion in the title of this post.  I could have easily chosen patience, tolerance or unconditional love instead.  But with compassion do you not think all these wonderful qualities will be seen in abundance?  I do.  And why leadership?  Leadership in the work place?  Leadership in the family, the community or society?  Or leadership of yourself?  Leadership is all of these and no matter who or where you are leading, you need to have compassion.  Leadership is a process, it is an art and it something we all do.  Without getting too academic here, I do think a good starting point is the National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership.  The six themes are:

  1. Managing Self
  2. Providing Direction
  3. Facilitating Innovation and Change
  4. Working With People
  5. Using Resources
  6. Achieving Results

And standard 1: ‘Managing Self’ is central to the other 5.  Many years ago I was an aspiring head teacher.  I was sent on a year-long course that aimed to prepare me for the challenges that lay ahead.  I learnt many things, but the one thing that really struck a chord with me was the need to deepen my skills at managing myself, to know who I am and what my values are in life.  A kind of spiritual journey, a journey of self-discovery.  At this point, I would like to add in that in 2001 after quite a few years of researching, reading and asking questions I finally decided to follow my heart and head and become Buddhist.  In my study of Buddhism, compassion plays a major role.  And so being asked on this course to self-reflect was something that I took to and really enjoyed.  A few years after committing to following a Buddhist path, there was a noticeable change in my own presentation and ability to deal with life and with people – so much so that one of my students said to me one day ‘Sir, I think you are a Jedi Knight, you are so calm, never get annoyed or cross and are always so kind’.  Compassion was at the heart of everything I did – and it is at the heart of everything I do.

As I write, I am 46 years old.  I have worked with and for a number of different leaders since getting my first part time job 30 years ago at the age of 16.  But even before then, as a school pupil, I was exposed to leaders (my teachers, tutor, head of year, head teacher).  All have frustrated me, all have inspired me, all have developed me, all have held me to account, but only some have shown the compassion that being a great leader requires.  The qualities of a leader is something we can debate and different people will give different insights.  Leadership for me is getting people to a place that without you they would not arrive at.  BUT this arrival must not be at the expense of others.  And this is where compassion comes in, where wisdom leads the way, and where a deeper connection with people is required.

One of my greatest pleasures is coaching and mentoring people to become better leaders.  Leadership, I was once told is easy, that is until you have to make that difficult decision, or have that difficult conversation with a member of staff who is not performing as they should be.  In part I agree, as sometimes decisions can be hard to make and you do have to make that call at times quickly and confidently.  It is the bit about difficult conversations that I slightly disagree.  If you have a great sense of self, and have developed self-compassion and compassion for others, then these ‘difficult’ conversations become so much easier, both for you and the person you are talking to.

And so to draw this to a close.  Everyone is a leader.  You do not need to have a title to be a leader.  It does not matter what position you hold in a company or organisation.  You are a leader.  A leader at work, a leader at home, a leader in society.  It is how you conduct yourself that makes a difference.  Lead with compassion and people will follow you.  Lead with compassion and you will inspire confidence in others.  Lead with compassion and great things will happen.