Compassionate leadership in a time of crisis

⏳3 minute read

COVID-19 is a defining moment for true leaders to emerge. What kind of leader does your organization have?


Kass Monzon

Published on April 16, 2020
Kass is the co-founder at Workbean. She’s obsessed about finding happiness at work and helping organizations understand their people better. She will never be seen without coffee in her hand.

The decisions leaders make now will determine the future of our generation yet there is no definitive guidebook on how leaders should respond in a time of crisis caused by COVID-19. Now more than ever, we look up to our leaders who are also struggling to find the balance to act with certainty while masking their own fears, whether from the government or from businesses, to give us some guidance and reassurance of stability and security. It’s a tall order but there are several ways to manifest great leadership — and compassionate leadership should be the lens at which we should measure our leaders.

Compassion, displayed explicitly, was once viewed as a weakness for leaders but at a time of a crisis, we expect leaders to act with an abundant sense of care, respect, and understanding of our unique situations. Compassion in leadership demands a different dimension from traditional leadership but it’s increasingly becoming a business imperative as evidenced by several studies proving that organizations with engaged employees are more productive and have lower turnovers.

We’ve seen amazing responses from business leaders from companies like the ADB tripling its response package to $20B to help Asia Pacific deliver quicker and more flexible assistance while keeping their own people fully employed and working from home and San Miguel Corporation donating Php 878M to solidify efforts to help medical frontliners and support the severely affected communities, all while also helping produce disinfectant alcohols from their own Ginebra San Miguel facilities. These are just some of the exemplary examples of effective responses to the ongoing war on COVID-19 and we’re here to help break down what compassionate leadership looks like.

Interview with ANC 24/7 on April 14, 2020

What defines compassionate leadership?

1. Empathy

Having the intention to see as others see and feel as others feel is the first step. It’s different from being sympathetic but rather stretches it by practicing empathy by trying to feel what the other person is really feeling however uncomfortable. This crisis has brought about many unforeseen tragedies to our lives and to our economy and it’s unimaginable to see people lose their loved ones while having to worry about how to live off of a canceled paycheck because of the shutdown. We need compassionate leaders to find it in their hearts to try to feel what this means for their people so that they can prepare themselves to listen and chart out an authentic response.

2. Understanding through conscious listening

Too many times, our biases hinder us from listening with mindfulness and we form our own judgments and provide solutions based on our experience but this is a behavior that could even aggravate a situation. Compassionate leaders will try to listen, validate and acknowledge to fully understand the true feeling of their people. Some organizations we have spoken to have rolled out pulse surveys to collect suggestions, feedback, and concerns of their people in this delicate time to help them understand their situation and come up with ideas to keep the people engaged – and ultimately, secure. Leaders are not always required to act based on people’s suggestions but it helps to understand the sentiments on the ground to make a sound decision rooted in compassion.

3. Championing the company culture and values

Compassionate leaders should always be at the forefront of championing their culture and values to inch closer to their “north star,” no matter the situation. Most companies are geared towards improving communities, environmental stewardship or creating more economic opportunities – to be a compassionate leader means stewarding your people to support your mission by being the first one to demonstrate the embodiment of your core values.

Several amazing leaders stepped up to heed the global outcry of anxious citizens and employees, and the world should take note of the swift, decisive and clear responses of some of these leaders like President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, to fight the spread of the virus and give people the hope needed to stay positive in this challenging season.


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