Are We Finally Witnessing the End of the Uncompassionate Leader?

Manley Hopkinson, esteemed leadership consultant and author of Compassionate Leadership, shows why empathy goes a lot further than any other leadership trait in this new guest article…

What’s wrong with a complaint workforce? They get stuff done, don’t they? Who needs all this motivation malarkey? “I pay them well, so I expect them to work well for me”. Fair? Hmmm! I’m not so sure. That’s old school, not particularly efficient and certainly not sustainable, and here’s why it is and here’s how you can fix it.

Compliance – How Do You Feel?

Think about how you would feel if I asked you to do something that you just don’t want to do. You really don’t but I am insisting. Now how do you feel? Frustrated? Angry? Annoyed (with me)? How about the quality of your work? I bet it won’t be the best, hey? You have some pride of course so you’ll put some effort in, but that’s where it stops. No satisfaction, no joy, no inspiration, and no desire to keep doing the same. No sense of urgency, no taking the initiative and no energy.

If that is how you would feel if coerced to do something you did not particularly want to do, what makes you think that your people would feel any different? Put yourself in their shoes. They are human too!

Motivated – Now How Do You Feel?

Let us look at the other end of the motivation continuum. Now I am going to ask you to do something that you are rather keen to do. This new thing motivates you. You want to do it. So how are you feeling now? Excited? Enthusiastic? Keen? And I bet that your work will be straight out of the top drawer – top quality, top results. Huge satisfaction and bursting with pride, you’ve used your initiative, taken some innovative steps and your energy levels are sky high. Do it again? Yes please, and more!! If a person is motivated, they are engaged, collaborative, innovative, accountable, resilient, happy, mentally healthy, and… productive!

With your empathetic lens you can see that if you felt that great, that keen and that productive, so you can bet your team will too. And that’s the point. That is why it is worth the leadership effort to gain commitment and motivation from your team. I use the word “gain” quite deliberately because it is a conscious and intentional journey that I want to explore with you.

“If empathy is to understand, then compassion is to work with that knowledge with positive intent” In other words, compassion is “understanding with positive action”. First, as a leader, I need to understand. I need to know what motivates my team.

Manley Hopkinson,
Founder, The Compassionate Leadership Academy


Where Does Motivation Come From?

All agreed, we want a motivated team, yes? Yes please! So, what is it that motivates us? The best way to look at this is to consider an iceberg as a metaphor for us. As I am sure you know about 8/9ths of an iceberg is below the surface; it is not seen. The bit that sticks up represents our behaviour; what others can see us do. Beneath the surface are our thoughts and feelings – we know them, but others do not. These are driven by our values and beliefs; what is deeply important to us at an emotional level. Deeper still, far from the surface and the consciousness of others or even ourselves lies deeper life experiences, needs, and fears that all stem from our early years or nurture and our core nature.

If we want to motivate someone, we must tap into all this. We must create a deep emotional spark from within that aligns with their values and beliefs and so drives their thoughts and feelings, which become the emotional engine behind their physical actions. Motivation and commitment are emotional constructs driven by self-worth.

So How Will Compassionate Leadership Help?

I work with the definition of compassion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama – for I know of no other greater earthly sage than he. I paraphrase. “If empathy is to understand, then compassion is to work with that knowledge with positive intent” In other words, compassion is “understanding with positive action”. First, as a leader, I need to understand. I need to know what motivates my team. I need to know more about their needs, their values and beliefs and what it is that makes them act the way they do. Then, I can apply the principle of compassionate leadership which is to “secure the best FOR all”. If I secure the best FOR you, I can guarantee that I will get the best FROM you, as I would have tapped into your self-worth and so gained your commitment and motivation – and we know what that brings.

How Do I Make It Real?

What do you know of your team and the people within? Do you understand what motivates them? Do you know what style of communication works best with them? What other demands there are on their time? What other priorities in life? Then consider how you task a team on a job. Did you just tell them to get on with it… or else? Or did you explain the purpose and value of their work? Did you agree with them on the best way to get things done? Could you align this work to their sense of self-worth? Do they know they are doing valuable work and are deeply valued?

Early Investment – Greater Rewards

If you make this early investment of time, effort, and intent in being able to align the work to their self-worth, so you will reap the benefits.

As a compassionate leader, it will become second nature to you. You will be deeply driven by your compassionate desire to “secure the best for all”. You will know the power of motivation and commitment and that the effort to gain it is small compared to the reward once gained.

Your compassion will drop any judgement you might have held as others under-perform, for now you know that the emotions of compliance or motivation are as real for them as they are for you.

When a team or a person is reluctant or struggling, or when their work is poor, then don’t look at them with disdain and frustration, look at yourself and ask yourself the question, “What more could I have done to gain their motivation”?

Enjoy the journey!


Manley Hopkinson

Manley Hopkinson is the founder of renowned leadership consultancy The Compassionate Leadership Academy, author of Compassionate Leadership (Hachette, £12.99) and a sought-after keynote speaker.