Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

When people learn that I help business leaders build more compassionate workplaces, they usually smile and say nice things. “Ohhhhh…. How wonderful!” “That’s so neededright now!”

But that’s usually not what’s really going through their heads.

Recently my friend Dave (himself an executive) blurted out what most folks are actually thinking:

“Okay Andrea. That kinda sounds like woo-woo therapisty kumbaya bullcrap. I don’t need to give my employees a reason to slack off at work or see me as ‘soft.’”

I found Dave’s candor refreshing. His question reflected what many people wonder:

  • Will compassion cause workers to take advantage of a leader’s kindness, and sink (further) into under-performance?
  • Will compassion chip away at employee accountability?
  • Will compassion cause workers to lose respect for organizational leaders? To see them as weak, soft, or “pushovers”?

These are legitimate concerns. Certainly, a leadership style that embraces caring and empathy while refusing to hold boundaries and accountability isn’t compassionate. It’s spineless, ineffective, and irresponsible. It erodes trust rather than building it up.

Authentic leader compassion has guts, teeth, and power. It’s an impressive performance-driver, especially during times of company stress, hardship, or change. Dr. Jane Dutton, an organizational scholar at the University of Michigan, summarizes her years of research on compassionate leadership by saying:

“A leader’s ability to enable a compassionate response throughout a company directly affects the organization’s ability to maintain high performance in difficult times. It fosters a company’s capacity to heal, to learn, to adapt, and to excel.”

Other experts agree with this overall assesment. Leadership development specialist Meysam Poorkavoos found that high levels of compassionate leadership in organizations are linked to the following: 

  • Stronger employee/collegial bonds
  • Reduced turnover
  • Boosted employee engagement
  • Heightened sense of organizational citizenship
  • Greater levels of overall health and wellbeing amongst employees
  • Improved customer service
  • Heightened employee satisfaction and commitment
  • Strengthened relationships in the organization
  • Increased affective commitment
  • Supervisors who actively show support to those they manage
  • A healthier and happier work environment
  • Faster, more full-orbed recovery in employees suffering from grief and trauma​

More recent research by Hougaard and Carter reveals:

  • Leaders who rate themselves high on compassion have 66% lower stress than their less compassionate counterparts. They also have 200% lower intention to resign, and 14% higher efficacy.
  • Employees who experience their leader or manager as compassionate have 34% higher job satisfaction and 36% higher organizational commitment. They are also 54% happier with their leader, and experience 22% less burnout.

A compassionate organizational culture does not undermine a leader’s effectiveness, nor does it cause workers to slack off and underperform. Rather, compassion enables business leaders to “do hard things in a human way,” supercharging their ability to develop, support, inspire, and guide. Especially in these difficult times.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.