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23rd February 2023

Maximising Employee Performance Through Compassionate Leadership

Maximising Employee Performance Through Compassionate Leadership 1

Compassion can be defined as “sensitivity to suffering/distress in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it” Cole-King and Gilbert, 2011. Compassionate leadership creates the right environment for individuals to enable them to reach their full potential and feel respected and valued at work [1]. It is about building close relationship thus giving us a sense of belonging – an essential human need, which after the challenges we all experienced over the last few years, is now stronger than ever. In this article, we will be exploring what it means to lead with compassion and how it can maximise employee performance in an organisation.

The Four Behaviours of Compassionate Leadership

According to Professor Michael West, who has done a tremendous amount of research on the topic, compassionate leadership is underpinned by four key behaviours:

  1. Attending – taking the time to be fully present with others and listen to what they have to share, their challenges and frustrations, in the same way that you would listen to their success stories. Nancy Klein refers to this as “listening with fascination” [2]
  2. Understanding – taking the time to understand what they are experiencing and not imposing our own understanding of the situation
  3. Empathising – having a caring and empathetic response to what is being shared
  4. Helping – taking the time to implement appropriate action to help them overcome any obstacles they are facing so they can do their job effectively

Maximising Employee Performance Through Compassionate Leadership 2

Compassionate leadership has been reported to create psychological safety in the workplace and enhance intrinsic motivation of employees [2]. These factors have been shown to lead to an increase in employee productivity, performance, and bottom-line profitability [3]

The Link between Compassionate Leadership and Performance

Compassionate leadership fosters a culture of openness and learning and increases levels of trust and collaboration through creating strong relationships and connections [7]. Compassionate leadership can increase the performance of employees in a variety of ways, including:

  • Creating a psychologically safe environment for employees which in turn promotes a culture of learning where appropriate risk taking is encouraged and employees feel safe to be innovative [8].
  • Increasing the intrinsic motivation of employees – providing individuals with responsibility and autonomy over their work. This can lead to employees having increased job satisfaction, engagement, and performance [9].
  • Enabling the development of trusting relationships and deeper connections between leaders and employees. This helps to create an environment where individuals are able to thrive and perform at their best [10].
  • Promoting inclusivity – compassion blurs the boundaries between self and others and promotes belonging and mutual respect thus ensuring diversity of values and opinions, along with gender, ethnic, religious and age diversity. Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative due to the diversity of ideas, experience and beliefs that each team member brings to the table [11].

How can impact help you?

We at Impact recognise the importance of a wellbeing-focused performance management and employee support initiatives. That is why one of our pillars that we base our work on is Wellbeing. As business psychologists, we design and deliver bespoke wellbeing programmes to teams and organisations and have recently done a significant amount of work on supporting current and aspiring leaders to develop as compassionate leaders and recognise how they can introduce compassion and self compassion into their team culture. To find out more about how we can support you and your organisation, please click here to get in touch with us.



  1. Bailey & West (2019). What is compassionate leadership? Retrieved from:,and%20do%20their%20best%20work
  2. Klein, N. (2002). Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind.
  3. West, M., Eckert, R., Collins, B., & Chowla, R. (2017). Caring to change. How compassionate leadership can stimulate innovation in health care. London, UK: The King’s Fund.
  4. Retrieved From:,bigger%20impact%20than%20the%20CEO.
  5. Benevene, P., Buonomo, I., & West, M. (2022). Editorial: Compassion and compassionate leadership in the workplace. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 1074068.
  6. Peters, R.(2020) The role of compassion in the workplace. Retrieved from:
  7. Poorkavoos, M. (2016). Compassionate leadership: What is it and why do organisations need more of it. Horsham: Roffey Park.
  8. Hougaard et al. (2020) Compassionate Leadership Is Necessary – but Not Sufficient. Retrieved from:
  9. The King’s Fund (2017) Caring to change How compassionate leadership can stimulate innovation in health care. Retrieved from: pdf (
  10. West, M. A., & Markiewicz, L. (2016). Effective team working in health care. The Oxford handbook of health care management, 231-254.
  11. Worline, M., Dutton, J. E., & Sisodia, R. (2017). Awakening compassion at work: The quiet power that elevates people and organizations. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  12. Chan, Goldie. (2022) 5 Reasons Why Compassionate Leadership Is The Key To Success. Retrieved from: