Compassion in leadership pays off - more than you think

Compassion in leadership pays off - more than you think

Illustration: Kristin Lidström (beskuren)

By Daniel E. Martin

It pays to be nice as a manager. Both the well-being and efficiency. It says researcher Daniel E Martin, a professor at Stanford's Center for altruism and compassion, and who now travels the world to lecture about "compassion leadership".

It is a constant stress of flying for Ryanair and there is a culture of intimidation within the company. It gets lots of effects, among other things, that you do not call in sick when you are sick because you both are not paid, and risk getting fired if you are sick more than once or twice. "

So said an anonymous pilot told the newspaper Södermanland news in August this year.

The airline's CEO Michael O'Leary went to the roof and the company's communications manager threatened to sue the newspaper. The testimony provides a clear picture of a company in which compassion does not appear as one of the core values.

Researcher Daniel E Martin, who studies how compassion can make organizations more productive and efficient, says that it is time for managers to think about. To get the most out of employees and the organization must act as an employee feel bad.

But is not this obvious?

No, not always in business.

If you study the social dominance orientation (SDO), a scale that scientists Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto developed in the late 1990s, one understands why compassion sometimes given lower priority in business.

People who end up high on the scale of social dominance orientation thrive in environments with a clear hierarchy. They also choose often roles, such as managerial or legal professions, where there is a clear hierarchical structure. People who are high on the SDO scale has also often sexist, racist or conservative views.

Organizations led by this kind of people are usually less developed CSR and sustainable leadership. They are thus less considerate towards society at large, but also against themselves. And this has serious implications for their health and leadership.

Daniel E Martin's recent research study shows that people who are afraid to show (and receive) compassion generally more stressed, more anxious and more likely to suffer from depression.

But more and more companies (and managers) are beginning to understand that there are rational arguments to put compassion on the agenda. It is simply not sustainable to ignore the people's needs of compassion and empathy.

Daniel E Martin is a sought after lecturer who now travels the world and speaks of "compassion leadership".

"When managers do not show compassion associated with downsizing or reorganization is more likely that employees begin to engage in 'organizational resistance,' that they are trying to harm the organization.In workplaces with a high degree of compassion, however, staff turnover low, "he says.

This is the case also in Sweden, shows several scientific studies. In a bachelor thesis in psychology at Lund University in 2010 which investigated the high staff turnover at a telecom company described compassion and trust as a key factor as to why it stopped. This is said, for example, an employee about her boss:

"He's happy, pepper us, asking how we are doing, then yes, his way of being is motivating for me."

In contrast, several customer service representative said that the reason they had left the company was that they felt that they did not listen to them, that their opinions had been difficult to reach.

And a dissertation from Stockholm University, which investigated the turnover among social workers, showed great introduction for new employees and appreciation from managers had great importance for the employees would thrive and remain.

But what is compassion? In the research context, there are three levels of compassion:

Awareness - to see that another person feel bad.

Feeling - to empathize with another human being.

Handling - to act to relieve another person's pain / suffering.

One of the main theses of the research on compassion is that employees do what the boss does. Daniel E Martin refers to the researcher Jonathan Haidts studies at New York University Stern School of Business who demonstrates that leaders who are fair and helpful have employees who behaves in a similar way. They are more loyal and committed to their job. They are also more helpful and friendly towards their colleagues.

"There is a link between compassion and productivity. That's because the compassion triggers a 'pro-social' behavior which, for example helping his boss to finish with a task despite the end of work, or provide a new employee extra attention. "

But compassion is not just a lubricant to make the organization run more smoothly, and increase productivity. It is also good for health. According to several studies led by researcher Thaddeus W. Pace at Emory University School of Medicine have people who show compassion stronger immune system.

"All this is good for the employer because the employees perform better and have lower absenteeism," said Daniel E Martin.

But how do you do?

Daniel E Martin argues that compassion is not just about to empathize with the employees and pay attention to if they feel unwell. It is also about structural changes. Here are his suggestions about what you as a manager can do to get more compassion in the organization:

1. Structural changes. Begin to raise people's expectations of the company. This is about what you are communicating externally, for example in the recruiting process. Recruitment must be open. Be clear about the type of candidates you seek, and how the process works.Communicate how and when the candidates will have an answer on his application. This is compassion in structural format.

Be sure to tell why some candidates did not go further in the process, and what they can do to strengthen their skills.

2nd Personal changes. This is about you as a manager shows more compassion towards yourself. People who show compassion towards themselves are generally more robust and better able to handle adversity because they are driven by a desire to learn.

Here are some things you can do today:

Smile. It may sound simple, but research shows that when you smile you feel better. You feel less stressed and make others happy. The muscles that control our smile is activated immediately when we see another person who smiles.

Show gratitude. Gratitude has in several studies been linked to both increased well-being and reduced risk of suffering from depression.Thank your employees for what they do, remind them that you care and that you do not take them for granted.

Trust. Trust leads to greater happiness, according to several research studies. If employees feel that the boss feel confident of their ability and competence is more likely that job satisfaction increases.

Take note of the positive and change your behavior. When we see other people acting selflessly and courageously we often feel excited and happy. Research shows that it makes us also like to act selflessly. If you as a manager shows concern for others, it will likely lead to others doing the same.

Many may feel skeptical about the idea of ​​walking around and smile and give thanks every day. But Daniel E Martin argues that there is no need to compromise on their personality. One may as head show compassion in their own way, the main thing is to be aware of how employees feel and that you try to do something about the situation when they feel bad, says Daniel E Martin.

"Managers may be how distanced they want, but research shows that compassion is part of good management and to provide concrete results. A manager's job is to make it possible for employees to perform at their best. Compassion facilitates good performance. Compassion need not be soft, cute or fuzzy. See it only as a way to lead, which makes everyone feel good. "


About Us

  • charter brand transp blue mediumCharter for Compassion provides an umbrella for people to engage in collaborative partnerships worldwide. Our mission is to bring to life the principles articulated in the Charter for Compassion through concrete, practical action in a myriad of sectors.


  • Charter for Compassion
  • PO Box 10787
  • Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
  • twitter
  • facebook1
  • facebook2
  • youtube
  • linked in
  • pinterest
  • instagram
  • tumblr



  • Be up to date with our latest news.

Log in