Business Leadership Today

What Is Compassionate and Inclusive Leadership


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

The key to leadership is inspiring team members to strive for continuous improvement, reach their full potential, and do great work. One of the main ways leaders can help their team members to do great work is by leading compassionately.

But to ensure you are creating the necessary conditions for team members to do great work, you have to ensure that you are creating the necessary conditions for all team members within the organization to do great work. 

This means leading your team with a compassionate approach that demonstrates a commitment to inclusion.

Compassionate and inclusive leadership is the coalescence of two important roles leaders play in helping their people engage with their work and perform well. Compassionate and inclusive leaders build strong connections with all team members through awareness and actions that support their growth and well-being. 

In this article, I’ll provide an overview of compassionate leadership and inclusive leadership, discuss why they are so important for long-term profitability, and how being a compassionate, inclusive leader can help your organization succeed. 

What Is Compassionate Leadership?

Compassionate leadership combines traditional leadership skills with empathy, sympathy, and compassion. 

Sympathy helps us feel sorrow for another’s misfortune. Empathy helps us understand and share the feelings of another. 

The key to compassion, and what differentiates it from empathy, is that compassion spurs us to act to alleviate suffering. The compassionate leader doesn’t just offer empathy, they take actions to relieve suffering.

Compassionate leadership focuses on building strong relationships with employees by making them feel valued and cared for so that they can do great work in a sustainable way.

Compassionate leaders have positive intentions, express real concern for their employees, and help them remove obstacles to meet their potential. These leaders aren’t just interested in performance and productivity; they are interested and invested in their employees’ success and ensuring their work lives aren’t causing harm to their well-being. 

Why Does Compassionate Leadership Matter?

In leadership, compassion creates stronger connections between leaders and their teams by facilitating collaboration, building trust, and improving employee engagement. 

Compassionate leadership is important because it provides the ideal conditions for team members to do great work, helps them grow, and improves their overall well-being. It helps leaders build authentic, trust-based relationships with team members, resulting in greater engagement and retention. 

And there’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that compassionate leaders bring out the best in their team members. 

Employees who work for compassionate leaders are 25% more engaged in their work, 20% more committed to the organization, and 11% less likely to experience burnout. A recent study by Catalyst found empathy, a central component of compassion, may be one of the most important leadership skills because of its positive effects on innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, and work-life balance.

Compassionate leaders are perceived as stronger and more competent and stand a better chance of avoiding and overcoming the potentially negative effects power can have on our thinking. 

Research has shown that power can impair our mirror-neurological activity, which is the neurological function tied to our ability to understand and interact with others. This leads to a phenomenon known as hubris syndrome, which is defined as a “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years.”

The pressure of taking on greater responsibilities combined with a greater share of power can actually rewire our brains and cause us to stop caring about others as much as we used to. We may find it more difficult to empathize with our employees when this happens.

Leading with compassion can help us avoid hubris syndrome and maintain authentic, trust-based relationships with our teams. 

What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership is about ensuring that the workplace culture is supportive of and respectful toward all employees. 

Inclusive leaders have a high degree of self-awareness and are committed to helping all team members succeed. They support and reinforce inclusive cultures, guided by inclusive core values.

These leaders view diversity as an asset that makes their business more competitive, more innovative, and more profitable. They encourage employee participation in decision-making, foster a work environment that is conducive to effective collaboration, and consider diverse perspectives to be part of any sustainable business strategy. 

Inclusive leadership places an emphasis on equitable and fair treatment, growth and development of team members, a sense of belonging and camaraderie, respect, trust, collaboration, and creating a shared sense of purpose that keeps employees motivated.

Why Does Inclusive Leadership Matter?

Fostering a sense of belonging is key to engaging employees and building camaraderie among team members. Leaders set the tone for this. 

The actions and behaviors of leaders make a 70% difference as to whether an employee feels included. When they feel included, they are more likely to give helpful feedback, go above and beyond to get the job done, and engage in collaborative efforts.

Inclusive environments that champion diversity are good for improving engagement. Engagement can profoundly impact an employee’s performance and how successful collaborative team efforts are. 

When employees are engaged, they feel a sense of purpose in their work. Inclusive leadership encourages a sense of belonging that unites employees with a shared sense of purpose and motivates them to work toward this purpose together. 

Inclusion is also great for creative and innovative idea generation. Organizations can benefit immensely from diverse points of view because they can spur innovation, lead to creative solutions, and create unique opportunities for collaboration with team members and clients.

According to Trish Foster, executive director at the Center for Women and Business, workers are shaped by their backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and personalities.  

Foster says, “Organizations that blend people who think differently from each other—analytical workers, conceptual thinkers, creative spirits, or detail-oriented employees—can create energy to drive new ideas and productivity.” 

What Is Compassionate and Inclusive Leadership?

When leaders model compassionate and inclusive behaviors, they are setting the tone for an organizational culture that values diversity, gives employees a voice, helps employees grow and develop, and inspires and empowers employees to do great work. 

For employees to sustainably perform well, they need a work environment that offers them a positive employee experience and where every team member feels a sense of belonging, feels empowered, and feels supported. 

Leaders play a critical role in communicating an organization’s vision to employees and guiding them to achieve that vision. Uniting employees with a shared sense of purpose is key to achieving the vision. It also helps to keep the teamwork environment functioning harmoniously.

For employees to engage with their work and perform well, they need to feel that they are both valued by their co-workers and that their co-workers share the core values that help them find a sense of purpose in their work. Unfortunately, when work cultures turn toxic, work environments turn toxic, employees start to become disengaged, their work becomes less purposeful for them, and, eventually, they leave. 

Toxic work cultures have been cited as one of the main factors driving turnover over the last year, proof that when work environments are negative, organizations will lose talented employees. This is why it’s so important for leaders to commit to fostering inclusive work environments that are inhospitable to toxic behaviors and microaggressions that can alienate otherwise engaged employees. 

Always keep this in mind: Your employees (all of them!) are your best asset. And you want to take care of that asset and make sure it is used sustainably.  

When you create the conditions necessary for them to perform well by removing obstacles to success, fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie, and regularly demonstrating that employees are valued by giving them a voice, you are making the most of your best asset.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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