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Mark Solomons

The Benefits of Compassionate Leadership

Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator - an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 14 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in schools, author of ‘What Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It?’ and creator of Welbee a highly effective online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, GESS Judges Commendation Award 2022 and triple ERA Award winner - discusses the benefits of compassionate leadership.

As an educator and school leader, how often do you reflect on your leadership style, and the impact this has on those around you? Is compassion something you recognise and practise? Showing compassion as a leader can transform relationships and have far-reaching affects across your school, helping to build a better working environment and fostering greater wellbeing.

Compassion also has significant mental and physical benefits.

‘The giving and receiving of compassion has major beneficial impacts on human physiology, including on the immune and cardiovascular systems, neurophysiological pathways and even epigenetic profiles.’ (Seppälä et al., 2017)

What is compassionate leadership?

Compassionate leadership means putting the needs and struggles of others on an equal footing with one's own. It places the emphasis on both people and outcomes, encouraging high performance through empathy, understanding and support.

Why does compassion matter?

As well as building trust, it reduces the likelihood of staff burnout. Staff who can turn to leaders in times of difficulty or crisis, are less likely to leave the profession than those without a strong support system. Staff who feel trusted report high levels of personal wellbeing, which in turn improves performance and decreases absenteeism.

Becoming a compassionate leader

Like any skill or behaviour, compassionate leadership needs to be developed - it is a learning process. Inevitably there will be times when you misread situations and make mistakes. When this happens, it is important to be compassionate to yourself – if not, it will be difficult to show compassion to others.

Developing these skills depends on building everyday habits: the way that you treat and talk to people, and the attitude you bring to the room.

For example, here are some areas to focus on:

  •  Encourage kindness: Being kind makes everyone feel better. Research by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation (2020) consistently highlighted links between kindness and greater feelings of happiness, wellbeing, and life satisfaction for people of all ages. Those on the receiving end of kindness are encouraged, while the person being kind, experiences a boost in self-esteem.
  • Be present and caring: Being there when staff need you, matters. Making time can be a challenge, so plan availability in your calendar - even a short time each day will add up. Check-in with staff regularly and ask how they are doing. Note any important information and follow it up – for example - if a staff member’s parent or child is ill, make sure to ask after them. Small acts such as these, show you care and can make a real difference to someone’s day and how valued they feel.
  • Own your mistakes and shortfalls: It’s important to take ownership of your mistakes, do this proportionally, as we all make them, show humility and use them as learning opportunities.

Common Myths About Compassionate Leadership

There is significant benefit from compassionate leadership, yet it is often misunderstood – tough decisions still need to be made and poor performance addressed – and this can still be done with compassion. Here are a few myths to bust:

Myth: Compassionate leaders are weak and simply take the consensus route rather than making tough decisions. Truth: Compassionate leaders make tough decisions and consider the feelings and needs of others and what’s best for their organisation. They explain the ‘why’ behind what they do.

Myth: Compassionate leadership does not encourage high performance. Truth: Compassionate leadership encourages better performance - staff who feel cared for, will give greater discretionary effort and are likely to 'go the extra mile'.

Myth: Compassionate leaders do not enforce policies and procedures. Truth: Compassionate leaders ensure these are adhered to in a way that brings staff with them, evaluating the appropriate response in each individual situation.

Finally, workplace culture experts, Great Place to Work, have identified 8 elements that help create a positive organisational culture, and sit at the centre of compassionate leadership:

Credibility: Staff know leaders are worth their word.

Respect: Staff and leaders treat each other with respect and dignity. Fairness: Staff believe that leaders make decisions fairly and without favouritism.

Pride: Staff and leaders are proud of where they work and what they do. Belonging: Everyone feels they belong and have an important role to fulfil.

Effective leadership: Leaders are invested in building a strong culture that aligns with their organisational values. Values: All team members share the same values regarding how others are treated and how classrooms and other environments are managed. Innovation: Leaders and staff embrace innovation and the positive changes it can affect. In reviewing these, it is about how leaders deliver them that is key.

For example, embracing innovation, such as we are seeing now with AI, means understanding individual needs with compassion and addressing them as new technology and practices are adopted. Cultivating a school culture where compassion and kindness are prioritised, fosters greater staff wellbeing. It also provides an example for pupils of caring for others and doing the right thing. As an education leader, you can help to shape a compassionate culture in your organisation and across the wider community.

For further information, support, and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact