How to be a Compassionate Leader Who’s Still the Boss

What does it take to be an outstanding leader? Intelligence, vision, resolve, integrity… the list of virtues is a mile long. But in the end, outstanding leaders are those who motivate, support, and inspire their teams. 

Employees typically don’t find brash, controlling, inflexible leadership very inspiring. No surprise there. On the yearly review scorecard, it’s the forward-thinking, empowering, caring leaders who get high marks from their teams.

However, balancing kindness and authority in the workplace can be a slippery slope, even for the most experienced leaders. So, today we’re exploring compassionate leadership—a style that can help any leader gain favor with employees, without stepping away from their position as the boss.   

Let’s Talk Compassionate Leadership

Compassionate leadership is more than “being nice.” Kindness is certainly part of the equation, but the heart of compassionate leadership is about recognizing every employee as a valuable individual, team member, and asset to the organization. 

Compassionate leaders are focused on sustainable organizational success. At the same time, they consider the happiness and well-being of their employees, and work to provide the individual tools and resources everyone needs to succeed.  

But it’s important to keep in mind—compassionate leadership is not people-pleasership. There’s a key distinction between the two. For example, people-pleasing leaders often enable bad behaviors, like slacking on deadlines and distracting other team members from their work. Compassionate leaders address these behaviors and stop them, because that’s in the best interest of the team and the organization. 

Are you ready to become a more compassionate leader? Here’s a list of best practices to help you lead with compassion, without sacrificing your integrity or authority.

DO: Lead with fairness, equity, and honesty.

Honesty is the foundation of healthy workplace relationships. So, encourage your team to always be honest by setting that expectation for yourself. When the team sees your commitment to remaining truthful and transparent, even when it’s tough, they’ll be inspired to follow suit. 

You can also encourage honesty and fairness by getting to know your employees. What motivates them? What deflates them? What tools do they need to effectively do their work? Accounting for these individual needs will help promote equity across your team and organization.

DO: Delegate responsibilities and trust your team.

Trust is a two-way street. Your team should trust you to lead, but you should also trust them to work. After all, that’s what you hired them to do. So, avoid micromanaging and don’t try to do all the work yourself. 

Taking over might seem like the best way to get things done, but ultimately it isn’t sustainable for you or your organization. Instead, spread the wealth! Delegate tasks and responsibilities across your team, so everyone is empowered to contribute and has equal stake in the outcome.

DO: Show that you’re a team player.

It’s important to show your team that “all hands on deck” includes their fearless leader. So, on those days when staffing is thin or extra hours are needed to finish a project, get in there! 

Work alongside your team and support their efforts to get the job done. This will show them that you’re a team player, ready to step up to the plate and ensure team success.

DO: Be a genuine and receptive listener.

When an employee knocks on your office door or sends a “can we talk” message, what’s your next move? Especially if you’re in the middle of something, it can be tempting to ask them to come back later. But this is your chance to show your team that you’re always willing to listen! So, invite them in or message them back. 

Set what you were doing aside and give the employee your full attention. Take notes of their concerns, and be open-minded about any ideas or suggestions they may bring to the table. And keep in mind—business-boosting ideas can come from anyone at any time.

DON’T: Ignore conflict.

Handling conflict in the workplace is no walk in the park. It’s more like a walk in a heavy thunderstorm. But it’s essential to maintaining a healthy and productive work environment. 

Don’t let tense situations, unsavory comments, or disruptive behaviors fester. Address them directly and swiftly to help your team focus on their work. 

DON’T: Correct or cover mistakes.

As the team leader, you want to make sure everything is perfect before it leaves your desk. But if an employee turns in work with several noticeable mistakes, what do you do? Your first instinct might be to fix the errors yourself and get everything sent off. Lock that instinct up and throw away the key! 

By making those corrections, you’d show the team that it’s okay not to double-check their work. And in the end, that’s bad news for everyone. Instead, walk them through the errors and explain what needs to be changed and why. Then, hand the work back over to them to make changes. This way, they keep ownership of the project, and you maintain your position as the leader.

DON’T: Skip one-on-one meetings.

All feedback—good and bad—helps people grow, which makes regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings imperative. 

These meetings give you a chance to individually review an employee’s performance, talk about where they excel, and point out where they could improve. Do your best not to reschedule these meetings, even during busy weeks, because they’re a key touchpoint between you and your employees.

DON’T: Allow team members to bend the rules.

Compassionate leaders are still leaders, and company policies are still company policies. Be careful not to be too lenient with your team. 

If you notice employees consistently arriving late, leaving early, or abandoning the office dress code, address the issue with them. Privately meet to explain what you’ve noticed and why it goes against company policy. And then, give them a chance to respond. Talking through these issues when they arise gives you time to find a solution before things get out of hand.  

Remember: You’re the Boss

At the end of the day—you are the leader. You’re responsible for the overall morale, growth, and success of your team. And that’s not to be taken lightly. So, lead by example. Treat your team with compassion, honesty, and fairness, and you can expect their respect in return.

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What’s your best advice for today’s workplace leaders? Use the comments section below to share your thoughts!


  • Very good things to remember here when in the position of a leader.  I enjoyed the article.

  • Very good things to remember here when in the position of a leader.  I enjoyed the article.

  • I agree. Thanks for the feedback! :)