5 ways to be a compassionate leader.

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Pat Ashworth, Director of Learning Solutions, AdviserPlus.

29th September 2020

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New research on LinkedIn(1) has found that more than two-thirds (69%) of 700+ C-level Execs across Europe, consider leading their organisations through COVID-19 pandemic to have been the most challenging experience of their careers so far.

The majority of leaders say that this period has given them the opportunity to reflect on their leadership style, and many believe it will have a lasting impact. With uncertainty around COVID-19 causing fear and worry amongst employees, 44% of leaders noted having to demonstrate more essential soft skills, such as empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence. To enhance their personal leadership, executives turned to experts such as AdviserPlus’ Learning Solutions team, for help.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty and rapid change, kindness has moved centre stage with more leaders and industries recognising the impact of compassionate leadership when it comes to building trust, confidence and loyalty. Director of Learning Solutions, Pat Ashworth, shares her advice about how to be a compassionate leader.

The main drivers of culture in any business are its leaders. The way they behave sets the tone for everyone. That means that line managers have responsibility in promoting kindness as the standard of behaviour.

What does that actually mean? How is it possible to be a strong leader and yet still be kind? Well, kindness isn’t necessarily about being soft and fluffy or failing to take tough decisions. All of the best leaders I have known and worked with over my career have had a number of traits in common and all of those traits related to kindness.

1. Having the best interests of people at heart

The most inspirational leaders have integrity – sometimes described as doing the right thing even when no-one is watching! Doing the right thing, of course, isn’t always the same as doing the easiest thing and sometimes it involves delivering tough messages or making hard decisions. But when these are done with the recognition and understanding of the impact on others, they can still be managed with kindness.

2. Showing genuine concern

Good managers genuinely care about people. They recognise that every single one of us has a complex life with its own challenges and they take the time to listen and empathise. On so many of our webinars we have talked about listening as the most important manager skill there is. There is a famous quote whose original author is the subject of some debate, but it’s a good one to remember, no matter who said it first! “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

3. Not tolerating poor behaviour

A kinder culture in the workplace is so important. A kinder culture means that poor behaviour isn’t tolerated by anyone. Leaders need to make sure that negative behaviour, lack of respect and inappropriate communication is nipped in the bud as early as possible. They also need to model the behaviour they want to see in everyone else. We’ve all heard horror stories of bullying bosses and the culture of fear they create. Not only will that kind of atmosphere impact people’s ability to do their job well, it will impact on their mental wellbeing. And this isn’t just about leaders. Every single one of us can check our behaviour and ask ourselves the question ‘how would I feel if I was treated this way?’. But we are human and there will be times at work when emotion can get the better of us and we may react in a way that isn’t helpful or kind. That also means recognising our mistakes and apologising when we get it wrong.

4. Honesty and openness

Being kind isn’t about only ever delivering good news. It’s also about being open and honest – including sharing feedback that we know another person doesn’t want to hear. Imagine, for a moment, that one of your team or a colleague has made a mistake or behaved poorly and you need to speak to them about it. It isn’t actually kind to either of you to avoid the conversation and risks the issue festering. But what you can do is think about your motivation and emotional state before you speak. What’s your intention in having the conversation? If you recognise that it’s to make the other person feel bad, then it’s not kind. If you need to, wait until you feel less angry or disappointed before you speak, that way you’ll be more inclined to explain the problem calmly and seek the right resolution.

5. Trust

Hand in hand with honesty goes trust. Trust is a two-way street and teams with high levels of trust between them perform better. Whether you are a manager or a colleague, keep your promises. Be straight with people and if you have a team, let them know that you have their back. If you have feedback to give, deliver it first-hand and avoid gossiping about team members. The best managers have teams that trust them completely and in turn those teams are far more likely to go the extra mile when they need to because the manager has created a feeling of the team succeeding as a whole, not just as individuals.

At AdviserPlus we focus a lot on being kind as part of our culture. That’s not just linked to support for local and national charities. We expect that people are considerate to each other, show respect and friendliness in all of their interactions. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges, but the important thing is that issues are dealt with swiftly and fairly.

We’ve produced many webinars to help leaders improve their people management skills, including a webinar on Mental Health and the Importance of Kindness which covers this topic in great detail. Our training course, Manager Essentials Workshop, also provides practical guidance in how to build confidence and improve core people management behaviour. Click here to find out more.


(1.) LinkedIn article: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/news/the-rise-of-exec-imposter-syndrome-4956636/

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