How often do you demonstrate compassion?

Today is January 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you demonstrate compassion?” People like Pittsburgh Penguin goaltender Matt Murray understand the signifiance of offering comfort to others, even if they are competitors. During pre-game warm-ups on November 27, 2019, Murray skated down the ice to check on Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom whose father had recently passed away. Murray’s father passed away the previous season and offered a heartwarming gesture to Markstrom.

While you are navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well, recognize that during the nature competition against others, there is still room to demonstrate compassion. This is especially true for those who manage others. Whether its in business world where profits reign supreme, the non-profit world driven by mission, or a government office motivated by public service, managing by compassion is an important strategy to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well.


In its February 2015 report "Stress in America: Paying With Our Health," the American Psychological Association reported “more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job.” If you manage people, you have a direct impact on the amount of stress placed on employees. If you are unaware of this, now is the time to recognize this important role your position in management plays in the mental and physical health of others. If you are cognizant of this then today serves as a reminder of just how important your management style is.


In a December 2015 Harvard Business Review article Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron discussed the tremendous impact managers have on the health of those they manage and wrote “As a boss, you have a huge impact on how your employees feel. A telling brain-imaging study found that, when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion while the opposite was true when they recalled an empathic boss.” According to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, a global online training platform, there are three pillars of compassionate leadership: cognitive understanding, affective understanding, and motivational connection.

  • Cognitive understanding is understanding the problems, situations, and decisions your employees face daily. Is someone in their family sick? Did someone close to them recently die? Are they are new parent? Are they dealing with a relationship issue? A compassionate leader with a cognitive understanding is aware of the realities of workers' lives.

  • Affective understanding is keeping your pulse on how your team feels emotionally about their work. Are they stressed? Are they overwhelmed? Do they feel they can complete the task on time? What additional resources do they need? Are they bored? Are they engaged in the projects they are working on? Ask them questions and be aware of their moods and behaviors.

  • Motivational connection is demonstrating to your team that you want them to succeed and that you have their best interests at heart. Find new ways you can help them accomplish their career goals. Connect with those you manage on a personal level and help them get to their next step. Yes, doing so may mean they have to leave your organization. Part of demonstrating compassion involves letting go when an employee has reached their developmental limits at your organization.

One of the strategies effective managers use to demonstrate compassion towards those they manage is that they encourage people to talk to them. This discussion can focus on problems at the office or personal issues. When your employees feel safe around you, when they trust you, and when they know you have their best interests at heart, they will confide in you. As Seppälä and Cameron noted, “trusting that the leader has your best interests at heart improves employee performance.” On the other hand, employee performance will most likely be negatively effective if employees lack trust in their manager or feel as though their manager is out to criticize them at every opportunity. Such an environment breeds little, if any, dialogue between manager and employees. Recent research, however, suggests compassion alone is not enough for effective management.


In their December 2020 Harvard Business Review article Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Nick Hobson wrote “Compassion on its own is not enough. For effective leadership, compassion must be combined with wisdom. By wisdom, we mean leadership competence, a deep understanding of what motivates people and how to manage them to deliver on agreed priorities.” To garner this wisdom Hougaard and colleagues emphasize the need for managers to increase their self-awareness and self-compassion and noted: “Having genuine compassion for others starts with having compassion for yourself. Self-compassion includes getting quality sleep and taking breaks during the day. For many leaders, self-compassion means letting go of obsessive self-criticism. Stop criticizing yourself for what you could have done differently or better." Hougaard’s research allows us an opportunity to reflect upon the following checklist:

  • Do you have compassion for yourself?

  • Are you getting quality sleep?

  • Are you taking breaks during the day?

  • Are you letting go of self-criticism?

  • How often are you increasing your self-awareness?

If you have demonstrated the above to yourself, then you can ask yourself ‘how often do you demonstrate compassion?