Could We Be Seeing The End Of The Uncompassionate Leader?

I believe we are in the moment of a tectonic shift in leadership needs and thinking. The old way and the new, and now is the time that the baton is passing, and here’s why.

The old thinking was “you’re lucky to have a job so just get on with it” “I’m the boss, do what I say” “Don’t question, don’t challenge and don’t offer any ideas” “My way is the only way” and “If you don’t like it, then leave”. Productivity and profit rule. Growth is all. Work is a transaction – I pay you, you work! And so this thinking created a culture of compliance, begrudging acceptance and detachment, of doing the bare minimum and maximising excuses. But the one thing that uncompassionate leaders craved was precisely the thing that their style of leadership destroyed – productivity. If the workforce is compliant then there is no “engagement”, there is no “going the extra mile” there is no “innovation & ownership”. The leaders own all the decisions and so must become busier and busier supervising, monitoring and measuring. The pressure mounts, the resentment builds, and the misery and stress become untenable. We become sick; the uncompassionate corporate world is on its deathbed – thank goodness! The anger and sadness that fills society is a testament to our global uncompassionate leadership culture.

That’s the cost to us, so what about our beautiful home, this delicate and precious planet that is our only means of survival? What have we done to her? She is scarred, beaten, polluted & abused. A finite friend that we rape and steel from as if she were infinite. Mother Earth is struggling under our lack of compassion.

So what about the new era of compassionate leadership? What does that look like?

Let me clear up what we mean by compassion and compassionate leadership first by turning to the wisdom of THE living embodiment of compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He describes compassion in a powerful way. “If empathy is to understand, then compassion is to work with that knowledge with positive intent”. In other words, compassion is “understanding with positive action”. That’s strong. It removes judgement, it creates a responsibility and compels you to act having first sought to understand. 

Then let’s extend that into a definition of compassionate leadership, which is “to secure the best for all” – each word has deep meaning.

“Secure” implies a long-term orientation, that you treasure something and will hold it tight, nurturing it to grow and develop.

The “Best” is easy – it’s just the best. The key word is “all”. Securing the best for ALL – for your teams, customers, suppliers, your people, yourself and … the planet. With understanding and positive action, we focus our thoughts and efforts on securing the best for all. This is the new. This is the philosophy of compassionate leadership.

And if I secure the best for you, guess what? I can guarantee that I will secure the best from you. Why? Because I am tapping into your self-worth, I am investing in you, I have your best interest at heart, so you trust me, we understand each other and relate better. You feel valued and you know you are adding value. There is connection and meaning. We create a culture of commitment, and that’s the difference. Compliance or commitment. Which do you want? Draining compliance or energising commitment? Controlling compliance or empowering commitment? Inefficient compliance or productive commitment? 

So you ask, “Could we be seeing the end of uncompassionate leadership”? Why would anyone want it to stay? 

I believe the “Great Resignation” that our media is telling us is happening is, in fact, the “Great Reset”, and it has been driven by a groundswell of discontent. People, society, and our communities are all reaching out searching for greater connection, greater meaning and greater humanity. A number of factors have come into play here that mean the reset is now, not least the “Covid factor”. Covid upheaval and isolation instigated deeper reflections with a very wide section of the community as we pondered our mortality and our contentment. We have also seen a different way in which we can engage at work with greater flexibility and autonomy. People, quite rightly, do not want to return to the old way; they want to forge a new path. Our task now, as the senior leaders in the industry, is to consider this a “great opportunity”, to grab it with both hands and lead the global transformation. Your legacy as a compassionate leader is a happy and healthy self, workforce, stakeholders and the biggest stakeholder of all, our planet. Your compassionate realignment of profit, people and the planet is the only path to sustainable productivity.

The uncompassionate leader is dead. Long live the compassionate leader.

About the author: Manley Hopkinson is the founder of renowned leadership consultancy The Compassionate Leadership Academy, author of Compassionate Leadership (Hachette, £12.99) and a sought-after keynote speaker. 

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