Never before has it been so important for senior leaders across sectors to bring “compassionate leadership” to their organisations. Indeed, this is a concept that the NHS has been swift to embrace: NHS Improvement’s “Developing People, Improving Care” national framework for action on improvement and leadership development in NHS-funded services states that one of the five conditions for “delivering rapid, sustainable improvement in health and care system performance” is “compassionate, inclusive and effective leaders at all levels”. 

In the values-driven world of healthcare, this may seem an obvious point but what does compassionate leadership actually mean? 

Linked closely to our greater contemporary focus on ‘mindfulness’, compassionate leadership requires leaders to be compassionate to themselves and in turn be authentic and able to empathise with the workforce and stakeholder landscape that they engage with – from partnership organisations, to the staff at every level of their organisation and to their customers. A compassionate leader will engage with others as human beings, bringing emotional intelligence (EQ) as well as cognitive intelligence (IQ). 

Compassionate can be misunderstood. It certainly does not mean soft leadership. Nor does it mean leadership that lacks accountability. By modelling compassionate leadership, senior managers will encourage this empathy in the organisation as a whole with a number of benefits rippling out from this – organisational and individual integrity, increased cooperation, resilience under pressure, a positive working environment and in turn improved productivity and outcomes. Indeed, when one thinks of inspiring leaders that you have worked with in the past, they are likely to have a significant degree of compassion. It engenders loyalty – and loyalty leads to increased efficiency and staff retention. 

Furthermore, in these times of ever increasing austerity, healthcare is more and more a performance driven sector but delivery at the front line needs to do in a manner that does not forget the care element of healthcare. The customers in healthcare are interfacing with the business at some of the most vulnerable, emotional times in their lives. They want reassurance and support – as well as professional delivery from the experts and administrators with whom they interact. 

If Board Directors and senior managers can be truly compassionate leaders, they will authentically deliver the values of their organisation and support the delivery of a vastly improved service – both from the perspective of quality and performance.

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Carmel Gibbons

Carmel Gibbons is a London based Partner and Head of the Healthcare practice. She is also a member of the Public Services and Not for Profit practice. Her work focuses mainly on senior appointments...

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