Embracing Compassionate Leadership

As an avid reader and occasional practitioner of Eastern spirituality, I was recently approached by a like-minded Dutchman who happens to run a training course for the Armed forces of the Netherlands.

The subject of his course is Compassionate Leadership which is essentially about helping military leaders develop qualities that place others before the self. The term compassion means “to suffer with” and be able to empathise with the emotional state of another in a bid to alleviate or reduce their suffering. Granted, one might find this topic rather at odds with the vision of a highly organized military machine trained to kill on a battlefield.

The Dutchman’s request was simple: would I mind contributing to his coursework by providing an account of my personal experience of leadership. Why me I thought…half expecting a wry expression on his face. But as the conversation rolled on, I realised he had done some homework.

My entrepreneurial days have shown me that the most successful companies are those that can tap the huge potential of their employees by enabling them to become leaders in their own right, and empowering them to make important decisions that impact the growth of the business. They are invested with a sense of mission and purpose and given the opportunity to feel part of something greater than themselves, whether it’s in service to their colleagues, their customers, or a to wider community. Creating the right conditions for this to happen is what matters, but this requires a deep-rooted understanding and appreciation of what’s important in their lives.

The Eastern approach teaches us to let go of the ego – the truth-seeker’s quest of a lifetime, or many lifetimes – as it implies a gradual and progressive change in our state of consciousness. However, the starting point on this journey is accessible to us all, in the sense that we can grasp the meaning of compassion. It is a feeling that arises naturally in all of us, even if not obviously manifest, and we can already start to practice compassion in small everyday actions.

In the very same way that teaching today’s military leaders to take care of their soldiers is of paramount importance – introducing notions such as empathy, mindfulness, awareness, and the duty of care in a combat arms environment – the greatest of achievements will hail from leaders capable of acting with compassion, by putting others first, and watching over their mental and emotional well-being.

I like to think of our business as one that recognises every team member as an essential thread in the overall tapestry of the organization, working in an environment in which the qualities and attributes of compassionate leadership can excel. A place that personifies the core values that give our working lives meaning, and a deeper sense of belonging and purpose, as we work collectively towards the greater good of the customers and communities we serve.