Empathy – The Gateway To Compassionate Leadership

I’m sure you’ve seen the one about the nail…well it’s actually called ’it’s not about the nail’ and depicts a man listening to a woman as she describes the pain she’s feeling in her head – I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it but it’s a useful 2 minute reminder about the need for empathic listening ⤵︎

I was describing this video to some colleagues as we debated the continuum between empathy and compassion and the implications of both in leadership. As we all know well, emotional intelligence, of which empathy is a key component, is slowly being explored within the frame of leadership capabilities and competencies. I say slowly, not because there isn’t a lot of awareness about emotional intelligence in the organisational space, but because it has yet to really be integrated into leadership styles as a core practise.

Building our emotional intelligence is a hard slog for sure and within that taking the time needed to be really empathic can end up being a casualty of the to-do list.

And yet, empathy is only a gateway to a higher quality and capability – that of compassion. Compassion is sorely needed, and urgently if we are to create any substantial change in the relationships between organisations and society. The commitment to a higher purpose linked to greater good, along with the collaboration needed to solve hugely complex problems means that we first have to access our compassion.

We had some debate, my colleagues and I, about what is meant by compassion. For me, the essence of compassion lies in the belief in the unity of all – a belief that we are all interconnected and that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. The challenges within the principles of unity and interconnectedness are many when viewed from the personality or ego perspective. Our desire for uniqueness, individuality, and independence are key parts of our evolutionary journey and yet they can lead to competition and separateness, not to mention a lack of concern for our fellow human beings. The opportunity lying ahead of us now though is to elevate that to seeking diversity within unity.

For that, we need to be able to connect with our compassion. Compassionate leaders will connect through their empathy to a broader vision and seek out the ways and means to building a world that honours difference and diversity. A world which addresses the inequalities and deficiencies that are being/have been created as a result of our more ego-driven competitive mindsets and behaviours. So, the daily focus needed in building our emotional intelligence and our empathy is fundamental to access our much needed compassionate leadership.


Lorraine Flower
Lorraine Flower
As a Corporate change agent, consultant, coach and mentor Lorraine founded azzur and is completely transparent about the spiritual principles on which it operates. Alongside her 18 years as azzur’s founder, Lorraine brings 20 years' service industry experience to bear through her senior leadership roles at British Airways (BA) and Great North Eastern Railway (GNER). It is Lorraine's belief in individual and organisational power for good that gives azzur its raison d'etre. azzur and Lorraine specifically has worked with clients across the business spectrum from financial services, to retail and transport to healthcare an in both the public and private sectors. azzur is focused on developing contemporary, spirited leadership capability, and organisations built on inspiring purpose, empowering cultures and a powerful vision and values. She is championing new models of leadership and organisational development founded on the principles of conscious leadership and writes extensively on these topics.She is a member of a number of global spiritual groups and communities serving the greater good of Humanity and the planet. She works and studies extensively in developing and exploring conscious leadership believing that business leaders are key players in transforming the well-being of the planet and humanity as a whole.

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  1. If often wonder whether the need to “fix things” comes from our desire to help the other person or ourselves, Lorraine! We’re uncomfortable when someone else is hurting (usually, anyway), and certainly our wish would be for that person to feel better, for both our sakes.

    I’ve found a simple “how can I help?” allows me to be the best friend I can be in those times when my nature just wants to do what that man does in the video: fix things that seem obvious to me.

    Tough topic, and thanks for the reminder.

    • Thanks Susan – it is tough as you say and asking ourselves the question – ‘who am I serving?’ is a very important part of developing emotional maturity in my view. Compassion generally asks us to stand in a space that may feel ‘unhelpful’ but may in fact be very useful to the other…and there’s an important distinction…so asking ‘how can I be useful?’ may be another good question to pose?