The nature of great compassionate leadership, courtesy of Google


March 1st, 2018

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If your latest staff satisfaction survey has highlighted an increase in staff who feel undervalued and disengaged, and you’re observing lower productivity and higher staff turnover, it might be time to take a closer look at compassionate leadership.

What Is Compassionate Leadership?

Compassionate leadership has developed out of the science and application of mindfulness, originally pioneered as a means of reducing stress by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It starts with the idea of the leader ‘walking a mile’ in the shoes of their employees, for them to see through the eyes of their staff and feel how they feel.

By being present with their staff and taking the time to understand the situations they face, the compassionate leader is able to take considered and appropriate action to help.

In 2013, Google started an internal initiative to teach mindfulness within its organisation. The ‘Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute’ (SIYLI) grew out of this, taking its evidence-based teachings of compassionate leadership into organisations worldwide.

Marc Lesser, one of the co-founders of SIYLI believes that compassionate leadership starts with generating and deepening compassion for ourselves and others, even those we may not necessarily like. He breaks down compassion into three parts:

  1. Empathy: Feeling as somebody else is feeling (however uncomfortable)
  2. Cognitive: Seeking to understand what somebody else is thinking and why they came to hold their opinion (requiring mindful listening)
  3. Motivation: Trying to take care of the concerns of others and reduce their suffering

Read more on the definition of compassionate leadership and its role in organisations

Does Compassionate Leadership work?

Dr. Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University wrote a book entitled ‘Mindfulness’ in 1989, long before such a word was commonly known. Her continued research since the publication has found a clear and strong link between leadership effectiveness and mindfulness.

She writes ‘In more than 30 years of research, we’ve found that increasing mindfulness increases charisma and productivity, decreases burnout and accidents, and increases creativity, memory, attention, positive affect, health, and even longevity. When mindful we can take advantages of opportunities and avert the dangers that don’t yet exist. This is true for the leader and the led’.

Compassionate leadership programmes are now available worldwide for leaders to engage with the principles of mindfulness and pass on the benefits to their staff and organisations.

The return on investment (ROI) of these programs have seen many big organisations, such as Ford and American Express embrace this holistic approach to leadership and management. However, the benefits of compassionate leadership extend beyond the bottom line. By adopting a compassionate and human-centered approach to leadership, companies actually create more dynamic and courageous leaders, able to rise above the chattering demands of a 24/7 world, to make thoughtful decisions that empower others.

Compassionate Leadership – Changing Society

Compassionate leadership is not just concerned with improving business performance and staff satisfaction but has loftier aims. More and more people are yearning for meaning in their lives, and want to know that their work has benefits, not just for the organisation, but for the wider world.

Compassionate leadership taps into this, elevating the consciousness of leaders and enabling them to help their employees connect with their deepest desires for connection and contribution. This creates a positive ripple effect of collective mindfulness which can set in motion changes to create a better world for everyone.

Compassionate Leadership is not a passing fad or airy-fairy phase in management. It is an evidence based science that not only improves company and organisational performance, but improves staff satisfaction and helps both the organisation and wider world grow and benefit in myriad ways.


Find out more about compassionate leadership in context from our very own Meysam Poorkavoos in this paper entitled Towards more compassionate workplaces.