People can grow. Practice compassion. Help better their practice.


In my office I keep a statue of Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. I found the statue in Hong Kong over 20 years ago and loved the serenity & beauty of Guanyin. I also loved the reminder of the value of focusing on compassion for others. Guanyin is connected with the Lotus Sutra which established in the Buddhist scriptures that everyone can improve with the right practice.

[The Lotus Sutra] teaches us that the inner determination of an individual can transform everything; it gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity inherent in each human life. – Daisaku Ikeda 

The Compassionate Leader

Compassion is greater than empathy for the challenges of others. Compassion is when that emotion leads people to go out of their way to act to help others. Compassion is not a mindset. It is a practice.

Compassion requires a specific focus on each individual. Compassion is about helping each individual to relieve their situation. The ultimate belief of a compassionate approach is that everyone can improve, like the Lotus Sutra.

Traditional organisations with an industrial mindset encourage dispassionate leaders. With a fixed mindset of employee potential and mechanistic view of employee productivity, compassion is discouraged. Leaders need to play to the averages of teams, cut their losses on poor performers and move on. Leaders who show compassion will be seen as overly focused on soft skills or more bluntly as weak leaders.

When the future of work is becoming more human, we can no longer afford the waste in this dispassionate approach. We cannot predict the emergent practices which will define effectiveness in a new connected digital knowledge economy. Innovation, disruption and new value creation rely on leveraging diversity, new ways of working and learning. If so, how can we afford to write people off until we have tried to realise their potential contributions.

Compassion takes Practice

Much of the traditional concern in management around soft skills relates to concerns that these skills are just talk. However compassion demands more than the thoughts and talk of empathy. Compassion demands action.

Leaders can act in measurable ways to help their teams to learn, to improve and to practice new skills. The work of leaders in the future of work is to realise human potential. This will take the hard work of new practice.

Compassion begins with a focus on the individual and an acceptance of their real circumstances. Leaders need to understand an employee’s goals and build their plans around those goals and a frank dialogue about where the employee is today. Compassion does not require you to soften the blow of reality. It requires you to help change it.

Compassionate leaders must work to improve practice. Coaching will play a key role in encouraging employees to seek out, experiment with and learn from new practice. A coaching approach to performance aligned to the employee’s goals and the goals of the organisation can achieve dramatic improvement in individual performance.

Compassionate leaders do not protect their teams from change. They make them better able to benefit from change. These leaders teach new skills and perspectives, show the potential gains in new practices and find alternative ways to contribute for those who are adversely affected by change. Compassionate leaders see change as a way to better realise potential.

The future of work demands compassionate leaders. How is your leadership working to realise the potential of others?

Compassion is a necessity, not a luxury – His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

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