5 traits of compassionate leaders

So far 2020 has brought a lot of challenges into our lives, including within the workplace. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work and this change looks set to continue, with more companies rolling out remote working moving forward.

compassionate leader at work

Connecting with our colleagues through video calls seems to be stripping away a barrier. It’s allowing us to peek into our teammates’ personal lives. We’re more likely to hear when they’re struggling with childcare or are having a tough mental health day. Asking each other “how are you really?” is becoming a necessity rather than a pleasantry. 

It’s becoming clear that the leaders getting the most from their teams during these difficult times are those who lead with compassion. Long after this pandemic is over, we can only hope this leadership style continues. But what does it really mean to be a compassionate leader? Here we outline five key traits, and how you can enhance them:

1. Emotional intelligence

Your emotional intelligence (or EQ) is “the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them” according to Harvard theorist, Howard Gardner. There are five categories of emotional intelligence; self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. All of which are important for compassionate leaders to nourish.

Being more aware of yourself and your own tendencies help you to catch yourself before reacting and considering how best to respond, leading to more considerate decision making. Being able to motivate yourself and others is essential for anyone in a leadership position, and being empathetic with strong social skills helps you see things from your team’s perspective and help you lead in a more compassionate way.

woman laughing in work meeting

How to enhance this trait: You can build self-awareness through meditation, journaling, working with a coach or other mindfulness practices. Start to notice how you respond to stress and how you can pause more before reacting. Revisit what motivates you and consider how you can help your team feel intrinsically motivated. Build social skills and empathy with practice, put yourself in their shoes and address your team’s feelings in discussions. 

2. Curiosity 

Compassionate leaders are always keen to understand more about themselves, their team and any challenges that come their way. Rather than reacting in a defensive or authoritative way, they get curious. Asking more questions and taking the time to listen and learn here is key. A compassionate leader will be curious about what makes their team happy and how they can support that. 

How to enhance this trait: Get more curious outside of work. Start learning a new skill or watch more documentaries. Start to question the facts told to you and become an active listener. Let this curiosity trickle into your work life. Ask your team more questions and be willing to understand what makes them tick. 

3. Ability to influence and inspire 

While some leaders get their way by dictating and leaning on their power and authority, compassionate leaders know influencing others and inspiring them is more productive. Leading by example, ‘being the change you want to see’ and encouraging your team in a more gentle way can have extraordinary results. When you influence others, they respect you and are eager to please. When they feel inspired, they get as much pleasure out of a good result as you do. 

How to enhance this trait: Consider the methods you currently use when you need your team to carry out a task. Do you use fear as a driving force? What could you try instead to inspire them? Check-in with your core values, the values your team holds and the values of the company. Start leading by example so your team can see the qualities you want them to emulate. 

Inspiring leader at work

4. Passionate 

Having a passion for the work you do and the company you work for is essential for compassionate leadership. It shows you are leading from the heart because you believe in what you do. When you have this passion, it naturally rubs off on others and encourages your team to feel more passionate and more fulfilled at work. A compassionate leader will also be passionate about the well-being of their team and ensuring they grow and develop. 

How to enhance this trait: Regularly check in with your team’s attitudes towards the work they do. If they’re struggling, consider how you could support them. This may mean making tweaks to their role or encouraging them to work with a coach who can help them develop skills and find purpose in their role. 

5. Willingness to learn

A compassionate leader doesn’t believe everything they do is right. They acknowledge that they still get things wrong but are willing to learn. Leaders like this will also be willing to learn more about their team, what challenges them, what motivates them and the best way to encourage them.

How to enhance this trait: Become aware of your own development opportunities and work on them. You might find it helpful to try a strength finder test or work with a coach who can help you identify the areas you’d like to work on. Try to learn more about staff engagement and find out how you can support yourself and your team to feel more fulfilled at work. 

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Senior Writer for Life Coach Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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