11 Qualities of a Compassionate Leader

by Andy Wood on April 4, 2014

in Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase, Protecting Your Investment

Compassionate Leader

After surveying more than 10,000 people, the Gallup organization learned that people want four things from their leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  Whether you consider yourself as the “touchy-feely type” or not, you can greatly influence others by showing you care and are willing to take action on the concerns and joys of somebody else.  In short, regardless of your position, your influence rises and falls with the level of your compassion.

So how’s your level of compassion?  Here are eleven questions to help you explore that:

1.  Concern – Regardless of your own situation, are you concerned about the condition that others find themselves in?

Compassionate leaders recognize a fundamental truth – we aren’t just a bunch of human silos, isolated to live our own lives and do our own work.  Sure, everybody has his or her own challenges to deal with. Compassionate leaders simply acknowledge that theirs aren’t the only concerns on the planet, and sooner or later somebody else’s condition is going to affect yours.

2.  Connection – Do you feel a connection to other people, regardless of whether you have actually met them or not?

Compassionate people have a way of mentally or emotionally inserting themselves into the worlds of others – if for no other reason, to explore what that world is like.  Example:  When you see a news report of some big, tragic event, do you jump into prescription mode (“Here’s what they oughtta do…”) or do you find yourself imagining what others are experiencing?  Certainly there is a place for problem-solving. But compassion comes first to a compassionate leader.

3.  Identification – Do you take pride in the success of people in your extended community?

Compassion isn’t all about keeping pace with people’s pain.  It’s also about identifying with their joys and successes as well.  And that includes the successes and failures of people who are part of their larger community, group, or “tribe.”  Compassionate leaders celebrate the victories of their team members, employees, or organization members, whether they had any role in that success or not.

4.  Empathy – Do you feel the pain of others who are unfairly criticized or slandered?

Compassionate leaders recognize the power of words – especially when those words have a demoralizing or destructive effect on others.  They can see it in the nonverbal communication, the wounded countenance, or the change in work performance.  Usually through their own experience, compassionate people recognize that “sticks and stones” don’t hold a candle to the pain that words can cause.

5.  Protection – Are you sensitive to situations in which people feel weak or threatened?

Compassionate leaders have a protective instinct.  They are sensitive to the plight of the underdog.  Whether or not they actually have the power to do anything about the situation, compassion at least serves to arouse a desire to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

6.  Awareness – Do you pay careful attention to the problems of people outside my daily world?

The opposite of this is the person who buries himself in his own problems or his immediate relationships. Certainly those matters have their place, but compassionate leaders maintain awareness of the problems of others in other parts of the organization, town, or world.  They may not be your problem to solve, but awareness has merit all its own in building compassion in you.

7.  Service – When people are vulnerable or in need, are you more concerned about the need than you are who’s to blame?

There is a place for getting to the bottom of a problem or finding out what caused a crisis.  But first and foremost, compassion leads people to resolve the immediate need first.  In a world in which the standard advice is to play the blame game or listen to the lawyers and cover your own, um, assets, compassionate leaders act first to meet need.

8.  Passion – Can you get appropriately angry when you see innocent people being taken advantage of?

There is a place for anger, and here’s how to tell if it’s appropriate:  When the anger leads to action – not just posturing for the rolling camera or preaching because you’re holding the microphone – but true positive action, then the anger is justified.  Some things should make you angry, but anger is useless, or even destructive, without action.

9.  Responsiveness – Do you allow the suffering or joys of others to interrupt your own priorities and responsibilities?

One of the truest signs of compassion is when you can leave your mulligrubs and enter into someone else’s joy. OR, when you can allow your joys to be interrupted by someone else’s pain.  I know you’re busy. I know you have your own stuff to deal with.  But one of the best long-term ways to advance your own problem-solving efforts is to allow yourself to be interrupted by someone else’s emotional world.

10.  Sensitivity – Can you sense when coworkers or employees are hindered in their work by external stresses?

Sooner or later, everybody gets off their game, especially at work.  And they don’t always advertise the reason why.  Sometimes people just put on their game face and show up, but it’s obvious they aren’t all there.  Rather than nitpicking performance first, compassionate leaders at least try to discover an underlying cause.  Again, maybe you are the solution to the problem, but awareness and support are solutions themselves. Which leads to…

11.  Encouragement – When your peers or team members are carrying heavy life burdens, do you look for ways to help them with their stress?

The purest form of encouragement by definition is to walk beside someone at their pace.  Sometimes you do it silently – what the preachers call the “ministry of presence.”  Sometimes you just listen.  Sometimes you pick up part of the load and gently suggest, “Let me carry this for a while.”  Sometimes you call in the cavalry and mount a massive rescue effort.  Sometimes you simply remind that individual that they aren’t alone.  Whatever the method, the message is consistent:  You are not alone… you can do this… I’m here to help.


There are other ways to be an influence than just being compassionate. But I don’t know of a longer-lasting way to lead others than by convincing them that you genuinely care for them as persons first, then as performers.  You’ll also be amazed that, when you need compassion the most, you will find that you truly do reap what you sow.

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