Compassionate Leadership

Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 111990.

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” Nelson Mandela.

I was enlightened this week to reflect on compassionate leadership and the importance of leading from a place of love and compassion.

What is Leadership?

There are various definitions of leadership. This includes influence, empowerment, deep connections, etc.

  • According to Peter Drucker, leadership is “someone who has followers.”
  • Bill Gates looks at leadership as “those who will empower others”.
  • John Maxwell posits that “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less”.
  • “Leadership is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory and when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership”. Nelson Mandela.
  • “Leadership is not just some empty formula but establishing deep connection at soul levels through service, integrity, passion, perseverance and equanimity.” ― Amit Ray, in Mindfulness Meditation for Corporate Leadership and Management.

Vision, Momentum, and Charisma

A leader has the vision, the energy, and the drive to succeed a tremendous amount of charisma. Charismatic leaders can change the world.

The Vision

Nelson Mandela’s vision of ‘one man, one vote’ led to the destruction of the apartheid system, where black men in the rainbow nation could vote as citizens of South Africa and bring to the end one of society’s most destructive models. A leader must have a vision that can change the world and make it a better place for you, me, many others, and the entire planet. A real leader’s vision will depend on its areas of work, societal, political, and economical changes.


Leaders have the energy and the drive to lead their projects to a successful conclusion. It is essential to have the motivation to lead a project to the final victory. A leader is the one who acts, leads, and uses all available resources to get to the goal. Sometimes s/he works day and night to get to attain their goal.


It is the authority of a leader, based on his/her innate gift and personal qualities. A charismatic person has an exceptional personality and exerts an inevitable ascendance on others. He/she knows how to influence, convince, motivate, and lead their team to fulfil the mission they seek to accomplish. We find these in some political leaders who are, in empathy and can listen to others.

I remember the first time I experienced great charisma. I was barely 21 or 22 years old when I had the opportunity to meet President Jacques Chirac at the town after a day of gluing billboards for his re-election as the mayor of Paris. It was magical. He was a King, a solar king. He was like Louis XIV, the Sun King, one of the Greatest French statesmen. He was magnificent and charismatic. I was extremely impressed as a girl in her twenties. From then onward, I understood the significance of being a charismatic leader. I thought of him and Nelson Mandela when I was writing this article as they were great leaders filled with empathy. They also had the ability to listen and lead their people. The French civil code has a wonderful expression of a good Father of the Nation. I think a leader can incarnate such archetypical figures as the father, mother, brother, or friend.

There is a Difference between a Leader and a Manager.

The manager of proximity has other responsibilities. He manages, plans, organizes, and controls day-to-day work of his employees. The manager’s role is to give directives daily. He gives works. He controls these assignments by ensuring that they are respected and completed. He often acts as a coach and a mentor. Today’s concern is to create a positive work environment, in which every employee will feel valued and more productive. A manager supports employees in their work.

What is Compassionate Leadership and Management?

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines compassion as ‘ a strong feeling or sympathy and sadness for the suffering and a desire to help them’.

Early Compassionate Leaders

Christ and Buddha are two of the earliest compassionate leaders. Other leaders were Prince Siddhartha, Prophet Mohammed, and Moses.

Christ died to save others. Salvation in Christianity, or deliverance or redemption, is the saving of human beings by Christ’s death and resurrection. The idea of salvation and sacrifice reminds us that He defines His love for His followers and friends for whom He gives His life for those He loves.

Buddha stated that, ‘Life is suffering’. He taught for around 45 years and his teachings are based on his insight into suffering ‘dukkha’ and how to end suffering.

Prince Siddhartha was destined to become a King. He renounced his future life as a king to find a way to alleviate others’ suffering. He found eight ways in which one could extricate another out of suffering; called the Eight Noble Paths. The Eightfold Paths consists of eight practices. They are: the right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (meditative absorption or union). Furthermore, self-observance, self-restraint, cultivating kindness and compassion will ultimately absorb into a divine, luminous, and peaceful state, free of suffering.

Furthermore, the Prophet Mohammed taught four lessons in Compassion. Compassion for animals, children, the poor and enemies. “Every Muslim has to give in charity” (Sahih Al-Bukhari). His compassion for the poor is such that; making charitable donations to the poor and needy is one of the five central pillars of a Muslim’s faith.

Last but not the least, is Moses. Being a humanitarian and working with refugees, he sacrificed his life as an Egyptian Prince to become a liberator and lead the Hebrew from Egypt to the promise Land.

Finally, I thought of Gender parity and gender sensitiveness and the name of Tara came to my mind.

Tara The Goddess of Compassion

Matt Caron a blogger wrote “Tara is thought to be a manifestation of the goddess Parvati, the personification of love and devotion. But to be more specific, the story of Tara’s origin comes from Avalokiteśvara, or the “lord that looks down”. This bodhisattva (a being that has the sole wish to remove suffering from humanity), began to weep one day at the intense suffering of sentient beings. Eventually, he cried so much that his tears began to form a lake…and out of this lake sprang forth a lotus containing Tara. Tara, having been birthed from compassion, began to labor behind the scenes day and night to relieve suffering from humanity, eventually incarnating in multiple forms…all women.”

Compassionate leaders nowadays, demonstrate:

  1. Connection: Compassionate leaders feel deeply connected with those they lead. They know their needs and do their utmost best to fulfil their dreams, hopes, and alleviate their sufferings, fear, and anxiety.
  2. Compassion: Compassionate leaders have real empathy for those they lead. At work, productivity does not exclude compassion. They seek to uplift stress and bring job satisfaction.
  3. Clarity: Compassionate leaders know their why, when, what, where and how. They have a clear vision and goals, for the future. Some are visionaries or seers as they can see what the future will be like and lead their people to the promise land.
  4. Courageous: Compassionate leaders speak their truth and lead from the front when there are dangers. They are fearless. They advocate for the rights of their followers.
  5. Collaborative: Compassionate leaders create a collaborative environment free from hostilities for their employees and colleagues. They honour the complexity of human relationship and with integrity they establish genuine and authentic collaborative relation.
  6. Ethical: Compassionate leaders have ethics and morality and walk the talk. They demonstrate the value and expect others to abide. Real leadership is synonymous to noble ideals. They stand by principles and values and are exemplary.
  7. Respectful: Compassionate leaders respect the principle of equality and recognize that all men are born equal. They defend gender equality and gender balance in the workplace and promote gender-sensitive policies.
  8. Wise: Compassionate leaders are continuous learners and great mentors, and they can listen and impart wisdom at all times.
  • Lead with Your heart: Leading with the heart does not stop with great leaders. Still, each of us who have responsibilities leading a group must emulate these lofty ideals and be empathic and compassionate leaders.

In practical terms, this means that if your staff is sick, give them space to recover. If they have a parent or child with underlying conditions do not transfer them from the hospital to a place where they cannot have the same level of care. If they are studying, allow them to attend classes, and to prepare for exams. Bring the bank and financial expert to advise them on savings, insurance, retirements and help them prepare for a better future. This list could be longer.  Always remember to be empathic, kind, compassionate, and always be good and do good to others.

Conclusively, human beings are in pursuit of happiness. Compassionate leaders are aware of the need for happiness of fellow humans and seek to bring social justice and happiness in their work environment.

“A compassionate leader always feels motivated to bring happiness and relieve the suffering of customers, investors, suppliers, employees, government and communities.” Amit Ray, Mindfulness Meditation for Corporate Leadership and Management.

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