It has been argued that the job of any leader is to effectively direct their own, their staff and their organisation’s attention towards a shared goal (Goleman, 2013). However, in this article, I will argue that when leaders do not direct this attention with compassion, the organisation, its people, and society suffer. Firstly, this article will discuss Capano’s (2019) five basic principles of effective leadership. Secondly, understanding of mental health among leaders will be explored to understand its impact on individual, organisational and economic well-being. Finally, the case for compassionate leadership is extended by comparing Collins and Eckert’s (2017) four principles of compassionate leadership with the teachings of Jesus Christ. His capacity for compassionate leadership is well documented throughout the Christian Bible.
Capano proposes a model that describes five basic principles of effective leadership. She argues that the job of an effective leader is to create a shared vision, ensure alignment between vision and team members, create a positive culture, communicate well and be people-focused and customer-centric. (Capano, 2019). Furthermore, the NHS Leadership Academy states that creating a shared vision is important because it inspires hope in colleagues and helps them see how their work fits into an organisation’s overall objectives (NHS Leadership Academy, 2022). To ensure alignment between people and vision, it is necessary to ensure that the leadership team understand an organisation’s raison d’etre. Without such alignment and explicit communication of purpose, employees receive mixed messages, which can negatively impact organisational culture (Gleeson, 2016). Therefore, strong leadership and a strong culture can improve organisational outcomes (Groysberg et. al, 2018). Research suggests that climbing up the corporate ladder can negatively impact leaders’ ability to connect with people personally, which can have implications for harnessing talent and getting the best out of subordinate employees. Therefore, an awareness of this and deliberately shifting attention to those employees can ensure that leadership (and the organisation) remain people focussed. (Goleman, 2013).
Leaders should focus on employee mental health and well-being through the lens of compassion. According to Carucci (2022), mental health is having its ‘long-overdue’ moment in the workplace. This view is especially relevant for leaders, given that a recent study conducted by Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford found that happy workers are 13% more productive (Saïd Business School, 2019). Moreover, it has been found that grief costs the UK Economy £23bn in Gross Value Added (GVA) (Sue Ryder, 2021). However, further evidence demonstrates that compassionate leadership leads to higher employee motivation and engagement (West 2021). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, compassion comes from the ecclesiastical Latin stem compati, or to “suffer with” (Rynes et. al, 2012). It is understood to have four qualities: attending, understanding, empathising and helping (Atkins and Parker 2012). Leaders have expressed concern that compassionate leadership may negatively impact the bottom line. Evidence suggests, however, that understanding employee mental health can help leaders effectively manage the [often competing] priorities of driving performance, ensuring optimum levels of employee productivity, and maintaining staff wellbeing. So, when leaders support their employees from a place of compassion; it benefits staff well-being, the economy, and the bottom line! For Christians, this position is supported by Psalm 22:24; “for he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” The key phrase in this verse is ‘to listen.’ As Christian leaders, we are being directed by God to listen and bear witness to the pain and suffering of our employees. We are therefore called to exemplify “compassionate leadership”.
A compassionate model of leadership can also create more innovative organisations. Collins and Eckert (2017) identified that leaders should nurture four cultural elements to drive innovation. These are:
- Inspiring vision and strategy
- Positive inclusion and participation
- Enthusiastic team and cross-boundary working and
- Support and autonomy
What is striking about these four elements is that they can all be attributed to qualities associated with Jesus Christ. Jesus created an inspiring vision and strategy by mobilising a movement amongst his disciples and the early church. Jesus also practised positive inclusion and participation, evidenced by his healing of the sick and his love of children. For example, in Matthew 19: 14 Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Further, Jesus created unity and synergy amongst his team (the disciples) by supporting them to spread his message of love. Finally, Jesus offered support and autonomy to his disciples, as evidenced in Luke 9, giving them the authority to cast out demons and cure disease (Llewellyn, 2018). Jesus offers a master class in compassionate leadership, underlined by the fact that the bible continues to be one of the highest-grossing books in the world (Guinness World Records, 2021). It is not surprising then that my view is that the church’s continued survival rests partly on its [albeit often painstakingly slow] ability to innovate.
In this article, I have argued that Jesus Christ offers a masterclass in compassionate leadership. Capano’s (2019) five basic principles of effective leadership have been discussed to lay the foundations of what ‘good enough’ leadership looks like. Secondly, the recent attention given to mental health was explored to support the case that compassionate leadership may offer leaders a better understanding of mental health whilst maintaining both the bottom line and creating a positive organisational culture. Finally, the case for compassionate leadership is further extended by comparing Collins and Eckert’s (2017) four principles of compassionate leadership with the teachings of Jesus Christ – an example of compassionate leadership which continues to inspire and give hope to many around the world.
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