Compassionate leadership is 3 dimensional

Let's broaden our perspective

Anyone working in leadership in the NHS will have noticed the huge focus on compassionate leadership in recent years. It’s a concept as powerful as it is timely. The work of Michael West at the King’s Fund has been instrumental in raising awareness of the concept and engaging a generation of leaders in trying to implement it.

Personally, I’ve been both inspired and helped practically by this movement. And it’s great to see that it’s still gaining ground, with new leaders discovering it all the time. If you’re eager to get into this more, I can highly recommend Brené Brown’s new book Atlas of the Heart.

However, I believe we’ve too often approached compassionate leadership as a one-dimensional concept.

It’s essential that we encourage leaders to be engaged and supportive of their team – adopting a personal style that treats them as people first, and contributors to success second. But it’s not enough. We also want leaders to be purpose-led and practical. 

Purpose-led leadership understands our shared experiences, identity and values. It systematically connects with values to catalyse bottom-up change, rather than just asking or telling people to get on with it (in a kind way). This is about leading with WHY. 

Practical leadership brings the tools of improvement science and management to make it easier for people to do well. It deploys often quite technical planning and management approaches for very person-centred reasons. Redesigning systems and processes to improve productivity, reliability and efficacy isn’t treating people like machines, it’s compassionate when led well.

How 3 dimensional is your practice of compassionate leadership?

Pause for a moment to reflect on your approach to leadership. You believe it’s good to be compassionate, right? Is that a one-dimensional thing, focusing mostly on your personal style? 

How could you align your purpose and practical change with the compassion you seek to deploy?

Now what could you do today to bring compassionate leadership alive in your team?


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