Compassion is in the action

When you read the title, did you get the impression that it was contradictory? That would be normal. We don’t often associate the word “compassion” with “action.” The word resonates more with emotions. With challenges like departures created by economic uncertainty, organizations need to focus on employee retention. Compensation and benefits, of course, play an important role in employee retention. That said, the source of lasting loyalty to one’s employer is usually something more profound. The good news is that acting with compassion is accessible and effective.

The difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion

Sympathy is participation in the joy or in the sorrow of others, in an inner state, or more in thought. Empathy is the ability to identify with others in what is felt, therefore in the sphere of thoughts and emotions. Compassion is an emotional response to the obstacles of others that leads to a genuine desire to help. This time, we are adding concrete action to the equation. What’s more, science[1]proves that compassion involves different neurons than empathy. These neurons increase resilience, positive feelings and even the ability to overcome hardships.

To be an exceptional leader, attention must be focused on team members rather than the position of power the leader is in. Compassion is seen in actions such as being inclusive, offering help, resources, time, attention. Compassionate leaders can see and respect the authentic person. Compassionate leadership is the ability to resist the instinct to directly solve problems without talking about them. It is to see the talents, the strengths of each individual and to maximize profitability stemming from our differences. Compassion in a true leader is seen in their human managerial courage.

An enviable skill

According to a study[2] published by Harvard Business Review, 91% of leaders say compassion is very important for leadership. 80% say they want to improve their compassion but don’t know how. In conclusion, compassion increases the likelihood that concrete actions will be taken to help others evolve. Empathy alone does not. Compassionate leadership has the potential to create a positive domino effect in the organization. When people feel listened to and supported, the chances of their engagement increase. But beware of your intentions: the literature shows that to truly demonstrate compassion you have to be authentically altruistic. Forcing oneself or faking the desire to help will certainly not give the results hoped for.

Do you want to develop your compassion? Our professional coaches are skilled at working with clients who have exactly that goal. Contact us today to explore!

By Caroline Thomson, CRHA, CPCC, ACC – Collaborator to the blog

[1] Singer, T., Klimecki, O.M. (2014). Empathy and compassion. Current Biology, 14 (18), R875-R878.

[2] Hougaard, R., Carter, J., Chester, L. (2018). Power Can Corrupt Leaders, Compassion Can Save Them, Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on August 8, 2023, from