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Leading Change With Confidence and Compassion

change leader compassion corporate social responsibility leadership professional development Mar 14, 2022

Early on in my career, I had the opportunity to participate in leadership development program that combined training and coaching with hands-on experience. As part of this, we spent several months in a practicum managing the day-to-day operations of a clinic, which included everything from hiring and onboarding new employees to ensuring patient safety and clinical outcomes.

The program was designed to accelerate the development of participants so they could more effectively lead at the management level. My interest in the program was to not only acquire valuable leadership training, but also to be on the receiving end of changes like the ones my previous team – information technology – was driving. The experience gave me the opportunity to develop greater empathy and understanding while learning more about my leadership style in the process.

Becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader is an important aspect of professional development. Thanks to both formal evaluations and informal feedback from my then supervisor, employees, and peers, I developed greater clarity about where I shined as a leader, where I sometimes fell short, and where I missed the mark entirely.

The process of leadership development can be humbling, especially for new leaders and managers. No one sets out to be a bad or ineffective leader, in fact quite the opposite. Most aspire to achieve high performance and make a positive impact. Poor leadership is not usually due to lack of want, but a lack of awareness and/or compassion. 

Leaders who lack awareness have a disconnect between impact and intent. They may want to do the right thing for the right reasons, but neglect to notice the impact of how this gets expressed. They tend to rely on their strengths and sharp thinking to make decisions, which are pragmatic but lack empathy. Communication may be direct and efficient, but absent the warmth and caring required to build trust and psychological safety. As a result, employees in this environment tend to feel like cogs in a wheel. Work is viewed as a means to an end, versus an opportunity to co-create the company’s future.

Leaders can develop awareness by becoming present to the aspects of their style that need development. With focus and feedback, they can improve their ability to guide people and teams more effectively through periods of change and disruption. To be truly successful, however, leaders must also learn how to be compassionate, which is at the heart of sustainable and effective business leadership.

Without compassion, leaders will struggle to lead to build community, which is critical for transformational change and innovation to occur. A lack of compassion also results in less trust amongst people and teams, which leads to organizational silos and a scarcity mindset. Instead of working together towards the highest common good, leaders and managers compete for resources, position the value of projects and teams against each other, and make decisions primarily aimed at furthering their own team's strategic imperatives and agendas.

Leading with compassion requires self-awareness, social awareness, and an interest in motivating people not only for the benefit of the team and company, but in helping them grow on a personal level. When leaders choose compassion, they can cultivate a strong sense of purpose and belonging, unlock human potential, and create an environment where people (themselves included) and profits can thrive. 

Having compassion for others starts with having compassion for yourself. Unless we can be kind to ourselves and accept our own suffering, we can never understand or value the impact of kindness and caring towards others. 

With this in mind, how might business and company cultures transform if more leaders and managers were trained in compassion and contemplative practices that led to greater self-awareness? Recently, I explored this topic with Dr. Joshua Nunziato, an instructor in the Social Responsibility and Sustainability division of the Leeds School of Business. Be sure to check out the thought-provoking conversation on Apogy's YouTube channel. 

If you are interested in learning how to lead change with confidence and compassion, we invite you to explore Apogy's professional development programs online at or email us at [email protected] to learn more. 

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