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Compassionate Leadership


Juliette Phillipson - 2024

Compassionate leadership is a style of leadership that emphasises understanding, empathy, and care for the wellbeing of others. This approach to leadership prioritises the emotional and psychological needs of team members alongside achieving organisational goals. It is increasingly recognised as a powerful approach that not only improves employee satisfaction and retention but also drives effective performance and innovation.

In discussing how compassionate leadership can support innovation, Michael West describes four key elements (West, 2017):

  • Inspiring vision and strategy:  This involves the leader's ability to articulate a clear and motivating vision for the future, along with a strategic plan to achieve this vision. Compassionate leaders ensure that the vision resonates on a personal level with the members of their team, helping to align individual and organisational goals in an inspirational and meaningful way.

  • Positive inclusion and participation: Leaders have an important role in fostering an inclusive environment where all team members feel valued and are encouraged to contribute their perspectives and skills. It emphasises the importance of diversity and active participation, ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and considered in decision-making processes. Diversity of voices must be complemented by positive attitudes to diversity, regardless of demographic background, experience, or profession. This nurtures psychological safety, trust and engagement.

  • Enthusiastic team and cross-boundary working: Building team spirit and collaboration not only within teams but also across different departments or disciplines is essential. Compassionate leaders promote enthusiasm and commitment by encouraging teamwork and cooperative efforts, breaking down silos and fostering a culture of shared goals and mutual support. Being supportive and collaborative and having a “how can we help” attitude adds to the culture of psychological safety.

  • Support and autonomy: Balancing the provision of support with granting autonomy can be highly empowering for team members. Leaders who excel in this area provide the necessary resources and guidance, while also trusting their team members to take initiative and make decisions. This leads to greater job satisfaction, innovation, and accountability.

In the healthcare system particularly, high levels of workplace stress, burnout, bullying and harrassment are reported. Compassionate leadership has been shown to improve staff motivation and wellbeing as well as having a positive impact on quality of care and patient experience (West, 2021). Compassionate leadership has been recognised consistently as an area for development across NHS policies (National Improvement and Leadership Development Board  (NILDB), 2016; NHS Leadership Academy et al., 2020).


National Improvement and Leadership Development Board (NILDB). (2016). Developing People – Improving Care A national framework for action on improvement and leadership development in NHS-funded services. In NHS Improvement.

NHS Leadership Academy, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, & NHS England & Improvement. (2020). WE ARE THE NHS: People Plan for 2020/2021-action for us all. In NHS Leadership Academy. Curriculum Guidance 2018.pdf%0A

West, M. A. (2017). Collaborative and compassionate leadership. The King’s Fund.

West, M. A. (2021). Compassionate leadership: sustaining wisdom, humanity and presence in health and social care. Compassionate Leadership : Sustaining Wisdom, Humanity and Presence in Health and Social Care, 327.

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