Resonant Leadership and Compassion: Practice Compassion Through Coaching

Part Three in the series on Leadership, Mindfulness, Hope & Compassion by Eleanor Moore.


In Part One and Two in this series on Resonant Leadership, the focus was on how Leaders sustain themselves so that they can “stay in the game”.  Compassion is the third element that helps leaders to lead others well, effect change that works and provides renewal for themselves and others.  The business case for compassion is that it sets in motion restorative mental, emotional and physiological processes, affecting how an organization performs.

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of the book “Resonant Leadership” details the research behind these findings with case examples from various leaders and companies that have found success when they have incorporated the elements of Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion into their leadership and corporate environment.

The work of neuroscientists is also helping us to understand the importance of compassion from an evolutionary perspective. Experts in the field like Antonio Dimasio and Steve Porges have discovered that biologically, compassion is uniquely mammalian. It supports pro-social behaviours that allow us to survive, and to live well.   We can only get close to each other when we can turn off our defenses; we can only turn off our defenses when we feel safe.  Compassion is what allows us to feel safe, turn off our defenses and be comfortable. It is in a safe, comfortable environment that we can take in information, learn new skills and risk creativity.

Steve Porges coined the word “neuroception” to explain that the body can detect risk out of the realm of awareness of the cognitive mind, a kind of body perception of risk before the mind is able to really process it. His work in the area of the body’s physiological responses to dangers supports that we can “recruit” compassion in order to promote positive social behaviour incompatible with judgemental, evaluative and defensive behaviours, which stunts learning and creativity.

Simply put, compassion is empathy and caring in action.  It helps us to connect to people.  It begins with curiosity, free from judgment about other people. Understanding and having empathy for other’s feelings with a willingness to act on those feelings but without expectation of reciprocity or equal exchange is compassion in action.  And it does impact the bottom line.  It assists leaders to understand the desires and needs of those who they work with on a regular basis and rely on to achieve organization and collective vision. It leads to important organization results: developing more people as leaders, higher commitment within staff, provides better responsiveness to customers and a shared community and social responsibility.

Steps to cultivating compassion:

  • Listen: Really listen and understand the experience of others. Resonant relationships require people to know each other, to be in tune, to care.
  • Be curious. Real empathy requires curiosity, respectfulness and caring.
  • Coach your way to compassion.

Boyatzis and McKee identify that when leaders practice coaching with compassion, either through seeking coaching themselves or by entering into a coaching leadership style, there are three major benefits that result:

  • Leaders are less focussed on themselves
  • Leaders are more open and in touch with people and issues, avoiding isolation and CEO disease ( i.e.: blind spots/lack of awareness as staff do not risk sharing full information for fear of reprisal)
  • Leaders experience regular renewal which sustains them and their effectiveness

To be effective, a coach, like a leader, has to foster resonant relationships in others. And like leaders, the coach has to go first. In order to inspire others, a coach needs to stimulate mindfulness, hope and compassion in themselves first – or there is no chance of inspiring those qualities in the people being coached. In the complex world of leadership and coaching, developing competencies in the core emotional intelligence competencies is key and protects against the pitfall of colluding with the coachee, a boundary fail that is not helpful to either party.

A simple way to explore coaching and compassion is to consider your own experience. Take some time to do this exercise:

1)    Think of who helped you most in life and your career.  Write it out: names, what they did, what they said, what your learned or took away from them.

2)    Think of the people who managed or coached you over the last two years. Think of who conducted performance reviews with you or gave you feedback in any aspect of life or your work. What did they say or do?

3)    Consider what each person in these two reflections said or did and how it affected you. What were the differences?

There is some interesting research done by Boyatzis and McKee about this exercise: When they looked at which aspect of the change process was primarily involved when executives described their memories of people who had been helpful to them, 80% of the moments recalled cited people who helped recreate a new ideal self, worked on our sense of hope, endorsed strengths in areas we doubted and improved the our mindfulness.  Most of the moments were part of a resonant relationship in which the person helping was in the context of a trusting, caring relationship. Yet in contrast, over 50% of the moments regarding the last two years experience of attempts at providing performance review and feedback focused on what was need to improve, focussing on the person’s weaknesses. The feedback was most used to help the person to work on plans that fit the organization goals, or a performance improvement plan. This feedback rarely evoked compassion for either party or developed resonant relationships.

Great leadership requires attention to creating and sustaining resonance. How will you be AWAKE, AWARE and ATTUNED? Challenge yourself to answer the following:

Am I inspirational? Do I create an overall positive emotional tone that is characterized by hope?
Am I in touch with others? Do I know what is in other’s hearts and minds? Do I experience and demonstrate compassion?
Am I mindful, in tune with myself, other and the environment?

Creating intentional change is hard work, it doesn’t happen by accident.  And it is not something you have to do alone. In fact, experimentation and practice in a supported environment helps us to go beyond our comfort zone and into mastery.  Coaching is offered through Facilitated Solutions, so we are here if you want some help along the way.  Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion can be developed using specific practices. Good luck on your journey, it starts with you!


                         What you can do,

                                     or dream you can,

                               begin it.

                      Boldness has genius,

                                              power and magic

                                     in it.



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