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Compassionate Leadership: How To Do Hard Things In A Human Way

“Being human and doing what needs to be done are not mutually exclusive. In truth, doing hard things and making difficult decisions is often the most compassionate thing to do,” explain the authors of the timely and compelling new book, Compassionate Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way.

Whether you are a seasoned leader or new in your leadership role, add this book to your list of must-read books during 2022.

Authors Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, explain that:

Compassion is the intention to be of benefit to others. Compassion is not about pleasing others and giving them what they want. For example, compassion can be tough and direct, such as addressing another person’s behavior if it is out of line. But it is done with the intention that helping them change will ultimately lead to better outcomes for everyone.

Also, Hougaard and Carter share that empathy and compassion are different from each other. “The two terms differ in that empathy is an emotion, and compassion is an intention. Empathy is when we see someone suffer, take on the suffering they experience, and suffer together with them. But compassion is different. Compassion is to take a step away from empathy and ask ourselves what we can do to support the person who is suffering. In this way, compassion is an intention.

Specifically for this new book, the authors interviewed 350 executives and in addition to the qualitative interviews, they collected quantitative data from 15,000 leaders and 150,000 employees from more than 5,000 companies in nearly 100 countries.

Their extensive research shows that there are four skill sets needed for a leader to operate with wise compassion when doing hard things. The four components of the Wise Compassion Flywheel are:

  • Caring presence – “Be here now”
  • Caring courage – “Courage over comfort”
  • Caring candor – “Direct is faster”
  • Caring transparency – “Clarity is kindness”

Within the book, you will discover:

  • How to unlearn management and relearn being human.
  • Why busyness kills your heart.
  • How to connect with empathy and lead with compassion.

Wondering how to unlearn management and relearn being human? The authors recommend you:

  • Remember the Golden Rule
  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Listen intensively.
  • Always give more than you take.
  • Ask yourself, How can I be of benefit?
  • Stretch people to help them see their greater potential.
  • Help people to see what they really need to be happy.

“Becoming a wise and compassionate leader is a challenging but deeply rewarding process,” explain the authors. “It is an an experience of personal and professional transformation. And, it is a lifelong journey.”


Rasmus Hougaard


 Jacqueline Carter

Question to the Authors: How might a person brand new in their leadership position use the book differently from a leader who has been in his/her role for some time? 

Hougaard and Carter: Someone brand new in their leadership role has a fantastic opportunity to use this book as a guide to set them on a path of becoming a wise and compassionate leader. This is quite different from someone with more experience who may need to unlearn old habits and ways of working to relearn being more human. Our wish is someone just starting in their leadership journey is inspired by key concepts in the book like “connect with empathy but lead with compassion” and “avoid the busyness trap.” We recommend that they take time reading each chapter and developing a vision for what kind of leader they want to be. 

In addition, our Wise Compassion flywheel provides a framework for leaders at any stage in their career to go through a cycle of continuous learning and development. This enables a new leader to start with the essentials and move through the cycle to do “hard things” in a more “human way” and learn from their experience. 

We have tried to make these steps and strategies relevant for someone new in their role as well as someone with more experience. At the same, a new leader would benefit from seeking input from a mentor or a coach before engaging in a “hard thing.” A new leader would also be wise to be humble about their success and be sure to get feedback from others to support their ongoing learning.  

Finally, some of my favorite takeaways for leaders from the book include: 

Clarity, kindness, and transparency enable trust. Trust enables people to work together and work through hardships. If people know you care about them and have their backs, it will be a lot easier for them to hear a difficult message. If they know you will tell them things they need to hear and not hold back, they will have more confidence in you and in your leadership. 

As leaders, when we demonstrate courage and reward others for courageous acts, we create a culture that values courageous confrontations and accountability. When you create this type of environment, people can be more creative, and you create more space for greater accountability and higher performance. 

Wise compassionate leadership is to have respectful and caring confrontations with others. We can only master this when we are caring and respectful of ourselves, and when we have self-compassion and self-confidence. This means knowing what you stand for and what is important to you and learning to manage your own inner limitations. 

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.


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