Compassion and courage: the leadership challenge!


In a world in which it can feel that everyone is watching out for number 1, it is humbling to see humanity in action. Witnessing compassion, selflessness and other altruistic behaviour in my daily life brings joy to my heart and renews my faith in humanity. 

Someone once told me that it takes courage to be kind and that strong people show compassion when others around appear to have little time for it. “We’re living in the ‘real world’ and it’s tough out there”, we often hear. These statements appear to imply that in order to survive and succeed, we need to toughen up. 

How does compassion fit into the ‘real world’?

Now, step forward into the workplace and that’s a whole new ball game where it can feel like a jungle and that you’re in a game of ‘survival of the fittest’. There’s something about being in the workplace that can bring out the worst in people. I say can because it is, by no means, inevitable. It really doesn’t have to be like that. The culture of an organisation is not pre-determined by what has happened before. Neither is set in stone. The organisational culture is dynamic and ever changing and is set at the top of the organisation. The leaders at the top of an organisation ‘decide’ what is acceptable and accepted and the top also decides what is not. The ‘line’ that should not be crossed must be clearly articulated and communicated by the top, in words and deeds, to all staff in the organisation. In some ways, it could be argued that it is more important to communicate what is not acceptable, than what is. 

Organisational values and vision are excellent foundations to build on. However, there is a difference between saying that the expectation is that all staff will be professional  and courteous to each other and saying what the consequences of not meeting these expectations will be. A quiet word or support to reflect on one’s action may be all that is required to develop our staff to be kinder, more compassionate, open-minded and tolerant of others’ views. However, it’s important to note that as leaders we must have the courage to ‘follow through’ and not leave an issue unresolved because it is uncomfortable or inconvenient to deal with it. Take counsel from more experienced leaders and seek advice from colleagues in HR when needed. Then ‘follow through’.

This is where courageously compassionate leaders are important in influencing values, attitudes, behaviours and untimely the organisational culture.  Compassionate and courageous leaders are what we require. Appropriately combined, these are just two of the qualities that have the potential to empower and enable staff; engage their hearts & minds and transform the culture of an organisation. Transformational leadership in action!

Pick up the compassion and courage leadership challenge today. Inspire future leaders. Change the image of leaders. 

PS. Another challenge is for us to associate with people who look, think and act differently from us. Widen your circle of exposure. It will result in even more compassion and courage.

Share your thoughts on leadership and how you have applied compassion and courage on your leadership journey. 

Have a great week. 😊


Photo credit: http://emilysquotes.com/a-good-head-and-good-heart-are-always-a-formidable-combination-but-when-you-add-to-that-a-literate-tongue-or-pen-then-you-have-something-very-special/



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2 thoughts on “Compassion and courage: the leadership challenge!

  1. Hi Nicole good to read your thoughts on compassion. This is something that is of great interest to me particularly as in my experience throughout my career I have witnessed some of the most tremendous acts of compassion, many of which took a great deal if courage. However it was as a young child, growing up in Northern Ireland, that I first came to understand the true meaning of compassion and the tremendous amount of courage it takes to be truly compassionate. My mother who has no medical or nursing background left our house on a number of occasions in very frightening circumstances to ‘be with’ men as they breathed their last, having been shot. Many tines she attempted life saving first aid but on a number of occasions she merely held the hand of a dying person and whispered words of kindness, sometimes she prayed ( probably always) but always she touched and got down on the ground to ‘be with’ the person while ambulances were summonsed. Often the dying person was not entirely innocent and many times he had been the perpetrator of evil, hurt and grief. To her that did not matter – what she saw was someone in pain, alone and dying. On several occasions she put her own life at risk to be seen helping ‘someone from the other side’ . I have not observed, witnessed or been aware of such simple acts of compassion that required tremendous courage and lack of thought for self. And while I have seen an abundance of courage in nursing towards patients what in my experience has been sadly lacking is courage and compassion from several of our professional leaders – lack of courage to demonstrate compassion towards staff working in appalling circumstances where dangerously low staffing levels put both our patients, our staff providing care and at times our senior staff at risk – risk of harm, risk of making mistakes, risk of losing professional registration, risk of losing jobs, risk of losing self belief, respect and fulfillment – how vocal are the nurse leaders in standing up for the rights of the profession to fulfill its full potential to provide superb, safe and compassionate care. I have witnessed very senior nurses lack the courage to demonstrate compassion and have an open and honest conversation with an individual, whose face clearly didn’t fit, but rather sat back and watched the individual crumble through lost confidence, self deprecation and loneliness. So while I started this comment talking about acts of compassion towards others in need of care and the courage my mother showed, my main point is that if we are not compassionate towards each other we will lose some of our best nurses . If our ‘leaders’ who often bask in the lime light of success and soak up the accolades of being hailed great leaders continue to disregard the need for compassion and courage towards their colleagues we will lose some of our best and we have done . Leadership in nursing requires a new focus and definition if we are to truly embrace the courage of compassionate care, to the point that as nurses we define and set the standards of what is acceptable and what is achievable. If my mother, uneducated and inexperienced, could demonstrate the courage and compassion to be non judgmental and ‘ be with’ someone in their greatest need then think what our profession could do for health and care if we all developed the ability to be courageously compassionate about the things that matter to patients and nurses and other care givers/professionals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Bronagh for having the courage to share your views and experiences. I’ve been deeply moved to hear of the courage and compassion that your mom showed in the face of real danger and agree wholeheartedly with you. You’ve inspired me to really live the values of kindness and compassion as I courageously continue on my journey as a black senior nurse in the NHS. Thank you again. Well said.

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