Compassionate leadership. A necessity for modern management.

Leaders play a powerful role. What leaders pay attention to, what they monitor, what they reward, what they talk about, how they communicate to staff what it is that’s valued in the organisation, i.e. the culture.  So, it’s really important that leaders embody compassion in their leadership, and that means behaviours.
Professor Michael West.

Woodreed is privileged to work for the NHS, with several leading Trusts as Clients. Our work is wide ranging, covering a multitude of themes that spark our passion, curiosity as well as our creativity.

Compassionate leadership one of the areas we’re working with them on right now. As can be seen from leading academic Professor Michael West’s quote, behaviours are central to compassion – the aim? to create a culture of compassion.

Compassionate leadership is a critical within the NHS positively impacting their people and patients alike.  There are great examples of compassionate leaders out there from across wider society too. Tangible examples that everyone will have heard of. The two I admire most are from opposite sides of the world and managing completely different ‘teams’ – Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minster of New Zealand and Gareth Southgate, Manager of the England football team. They are perfect examples of modern-day compassionate leaders. Here’s what make them stand out.

Gareth Southgate

Gareth bucked the trend when it came to traditional ways of managing the team

Gareth Southgate showed us truly modern leadership. The nice guy (very nearly) won. The way he led his team, kept the press onside and won all our hearts at the same time was a modern leadership masterclass. His winning formula? No, not 5-3-2, but the 4Cs – compassion, courage, communication and consistency.

What we can learn from Gareth

  • Being present and in the moment
  • Highly aware of the needs of the team both on the pitch and off
  • Being able to tolerate and hold a space for the distress of others
  • Self-sacrifice – when talking about England’s loss in the final of Euros 2020, he put the blame on himself, he took responsibility, he put the needs of his team above his own.

What Gareth Southgate proved is that a compassionate approach and determination, drive and vision are not mutually exclusive.

Clear direction plus compassionate leadership grows great organisational culture.

Jacinda Ardern

It takes strength to show empathy.

Humanity and empathy underpinned Jacinda’s leadership style. After the Christchurch bombings, she was highly visible in her support for the Muslim community and wore the hijab as a mark of respect when meeting and supporting survivors and the victims’ families.

She navigated the pandemic with a gentle leadership style, compassion and crystal-clear communication. The result? She earned the trust of the New Zealand people which helped keep infection rates low.

Even her recent resignation speech was grounded in empathy:

I am human, politicians are human…I am not the first woman to multitask. I am not the first woman to work and have a baby. I know these are special circumstances but there will be many women who will have done this well before I have.

What we can learn from Jacinda

  • Strength and empathy are not mutually exclusive
  • The ability to communicate simply and clearly is key
  • Compassionate leadership drives trust.

For more on compassionate leadership Check out the brilliant work by Professor Michael West for an overview of compassionate leadership and why it is so important to modern management.

What does compassionate leadership mean to you? How do you and your fellow leaders follow these principles in the way you lead your people?


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