An image of several people in a line holding hands ascending a mountain. The man in front is holding up a flag, symbolising compassionate leaders.
Image: © Mariia/

8 tips to help leaders be more compassionate at work

11 Jan 2023

Hays’ Christoph Niewerth shares his tips for leaders to help them become more thoughtful and empathetic in this new world of work.

As the world of work evolves, it’s becoming increasingly important that we all take steps to adapt our approach to how we lead our teams. Why?

Because all the change that we’re witness to in the workplace – changing technology, changing job roles, changing skills, changing working patterns – demands that we as leaders are more compassionate and supportive in the way we lead our people.

Ultimately compassionate leadership is about you as a leader doing everything you can to ensure the team around you thrives. It’s about you ensuring they have all the support they need to be creative, to problem solve, to push themselves out of their comfort zones and to learn.

When you take a truly compassionate approach to leadership, you will ultimately ensure that your team will not only adapt to this constant backdrop of change, but they will thrive in it. So, how can you become a more compassionate leader?

Take some time to self-reflect

Self-reflection is often the first step to becoming a more compassionate leader. Think about all the times when you may have tended to revert to less-than-desirable tactics when managing or leading your people.

For example, perhaps a project deadline is fast-approaching – with a member of your team playing a crucial role – so, you ask them: “Are you going to get it done on time?” Instead, in this situation, a more compassionate approach would be to ask them something like: “The deadline is next week – do you have everything you need to get it done on time?”

Articulating your support for your team will be far more helpful and constructive, particularly during busy times when the pressure is on. So take some time to reflect on how you interact and importantly, the words you use when interacting with your team.

Adjust your language

Using your words in a way that shows your understanding of how your people feel in certain challenging situations – empathising with their situation, rather than merely sympathising – can make an immense difference to how well you work as unit.

Phrases such as: “I can see how important this is to you”, “I know this can be frustrating”, “Let’s see if we can solve this together” and “I’d like to help you if I can” strike at the heart of compassionate leadership as a form of ‘co-suffering’.

Language like this is key to communicating to your workers that you genuinely share their pain, instead of merely claiming to understand their pain.

Don’t be afraid to share your shortcomings

Part of being a compassionate leader is about bringing your authentic self to the office every day. This will allow your people to feel comfortable in asking you for support, thus building a culture of trust and learning within your team.

So, don’t be afraid to show that you are a real person, including being honest about your shortcomings and skills gaps. Remember, your role as a leader is to be the ‘conductor of your orchestra’, bringing each part together at the right time to create something great.

You don’t need to be the most qualified person on your team. It’s not your job to be better than everyone else, or indeed to be better at everything than everyone else. As a leader, you are on just as much of a learning and development journey as your employees.

Appreciate the views of others

It can bring real benefits to your team and your wider workplace if you are able to clear your mind, put your personal views to one side and try to see situations from the perspective of your people.

Always attempt to envisage yourself in the shoes of your team members in every challenging scenario you face. Doing this will help you build a more inclusive team culture, one where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are heard, which can only ever be a good thing for both your team members and the wider business.

It will also help you better understand and plan for what exactly your team members need from you in order to overcome challenges, adapt to change and solve problems.

Create a psychologically safe team culture

Occasional errors and mistakes are to be expected. What’s important is how we learn from them and refine our approach for next time.

Compassionate leaders know this. They will take steps to create a psychologically safe culture within their teams – a culture whereby everyone feels empowered and supported to try new things and take moderate risks, even if they make mistakes and things don’t go as planned.

And, if errors are made, they know they won’t be unfairly chastised or punished. Instead, they’ll encourage their people to take everything they can from the situation, see it as a learning experience, and move on.

Genuinely take an interest in your employees as people

Your people are human beings, not robots – so treat them like the former, not the latter. Show your employees that you have their back and can (and will) step in to provide any assistance or support they might need.

Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need from you, and how you can help them to ensure they get a particular task done to a high standard and by the deadline.

Also, show an interest in their personal lives, grabbing coffee or lunch together from time to time, and asking them how their weekend was, for example.

Ask questions and be an active listener

It might sound obvious, but an essential part of being a more compassionate leader is actively listening to what your people have to say, rather than just passively hearing them.

To put it like the late author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey, you need to listen with the intent to understand the person speaking, rather than merely intent to reply.

So, in your next team meeting, try to actively listen to what your employees are saying in a non-judgemental way. Ask questions, paraphrase and clarify their key points, and reflect on the conversation afterwards.

Get better at giving feedback

Giving feedback well is an important element of compassionate leadership as it opens the recipient’s eyes to the changes they need to make in order to thrive.

Importantly, a compassionate leader will always explain that they are ultimately there to help their team improve – while giving them the resources they need to succeed and being clear on what improvements they expect to see.

The most effective leaders know that it’s perfectly possible to be compassionate, while also genuinely holding their team members to account for their performance.

Never has a compassionate approach to leadership been more important. The world of work is evolving, and the demands it is placing on us all are in a constant state of flux. So, as leaders, we must do everything we can to ensure every person on our team has everything they need to thrive, both now and in the future.

By Christoph Niewerth

Christoph Niewerth is a member of the Hays Germany board. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays blog.

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