Non-Profit Leadership: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

Grateful diverse team expressing recognition, appreciation, acknowledging to great leader

The term compassion is typically used for those who are people helpers and caregivers. It is often not a part of the training of most leaders and managers. Yet when we think of the leaders we admire, most of them have a level of human connection and compassion that created positive relationships with those within their sphere of influence.

One simple definition of compassion is found in the book Resonant Leadership by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. They define compassion as empathy in action. It is the idea of being open to others which enables leaders to face tough times with creativity and resilience. Those times are the moments where the impact of leaders are so important to help their teams move through crises or difficult situations in a way that is both bonding and trust-building.

Leaders who are compassionate exemplify 3 characteristics:

  • They understand and empathize with others’ feelings and experiences.
  • They genuinely care for others.
  • They are willing to act on those feelings of care and empathy.

It is predictable that compassionate leaders are mindful in that they are attuned to and aware of the needs and emotions of those they oversee. It takes a high level of mindfulness in order to reach out to people in key moments and demonstrate measurable compassion by helping in practical ways. Compassionate leaders are humble, sacrificial and willing to step into situations that may feel somewhat compromising. In so doing they are acting on values that genuinely exemplify care for people in real life situations and in tangible ways.

Businesswoman boss praises month best employee shake hands with woman

Some of the benefits of compassion include it being a renewing agent, it decreases stress levels, and it improves effectiveness. It achieves those things by creating environments that are both safe and understanding which helps to increase trust, respect and authenticity. When people work in an environment where their leaders are vulnerable and compassionate there is a level of authenticity that will allow people to feel positive emotions and act in ways that are congruent with those positive emotions. It is predictable that they will be more loyal, satisfied, and capable in that kind of workplace.

In most non-profits staff are being poured out for the mission of their organization. If their leaders are demonstrating this kind of caring and compassion it is more likely that the ripple effect will spread to the entire staff and those they serve in their mission. That positive contagion of compassion will permeate the impact of the staff and programs while creating confidence, security and resonance throughout the organization. Compassionate leaders create dynamic and healthy relationships that will have significant impact on those they lead.

Gerry Vassar


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