Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

People often ask me, “Does compassionate leadership make good business sense”?

To answer, let me tell you a true story of compassionate leadership in action. It’s one I find deeply inspiring. First, because it shows off female executive leadership at its very best. Second, it powerfully displays the close tie between care and progress. Third, because Pamela Maynard is, if I’m being totally honest, a modern hero of mine. I’m a bit starstruck.

So read on. Be inspired. And if you feel moved, forward away! (Maybe, if I’m lucky, it’ll even make its way to Pamela’s inbox!)

Blow After Blow of Societal Trauma

In the Fall of 2019, Pamela Maynard took over as CEO of Avanade—a large, London-based information technology company.* Six months into her historic tenure as one of the first and only black female CEOs in tech, the Covid-19 pandemic catapulted the world into an unprecedented and protracted state of emergency. Nine months into Maynard’s tenure, the murder of George Floyd ignited widespread outcry against the structures of injustice and violence that continue to plague our communities. Seventeen months into her tenure, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia propelled waves of social, economic, and political tumult into a world already desperate to catch its breath. 

When she started at Avanade, Maynard had been prepared to deal with the ups and downs of adjusting to her new leadership role. But the challenges that soon faced her were much more complex than she’d anticipated. 

How does one provide executive guidance to tens of thousands of employees and push forward business goals, while suffering blow after blow of societal trauma?

When Calamity Becomes the Bedrock of Greatness

There are certain leaders for whom calamity becomes the bedrock of greatness. Maynard is one of them. Her genius was to see that responding compassionately to a worldwide “polycrisis” (her term) went hand in hand with growing Avanade’s structure, operations, reach, and revenue. 

As the pandemic enveloped everyone in fear and bewilderment, her first move was to prioritize vulnerable connection, unflinching candor, and radical inclusion as she strategized a way forward. Maynard called together her leaders, and said this: 

“Everyone, I don’t have the answers. But here’s the process I’ll be going through to find them. You’ll be part of it, and here’s how. Know that some balls are going to drop. Know that this will get messy. Know that you’ll need to adjust in ways you never thought you’d have to. But at the end, we’ll all have more clarity, and we’ll have achieved it together.”     

Maynard admitted that she didn’t have the answers but what she did have to offer was a map of a collective path toward them. Her transparency instantly created a sense of connection between herself and her leaders which then overflowed into their teams. 

Maynard also tuned into herself with formidable consistency. Self-connection and self-compassion are the foundation of compassionate leadership, and Maynard leaned into these with full force. She relied on her mentors for support, provided herself with time for self-compassionate attention, and didn’t ignore those subtle signs (messy desk, short breaths) that indicated when she needed a break. By prioritizing her own wellness, Maynard showcased and sanctioned the self-care behaviors her leaders needed to stay grounded, resilient, and effective in the face of maximal stress.

Yet another crucial move Maynard made was to implement advocacy-based initiatives that directly met the emotional and humanitarian needs of people in her company, and beyond. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Maynard created a companywide day of reflection. Employees were told to step away from their work, and to intentionally process the pain of racial injustice in whatever ways they found healing. 

And when Russia invaded Ukraine, Maynard tapped into peoples’ urge to help. She and her leaders galvanized teams of Avanade workers to take flexible work time to open their homes to refugees, gather food and other supplies, and donate items for those affected by the wartime crisis.

“No Trade-Off Between Care and Progress”

How did Maynard’s vulnerability, self-care, and healing/advocacy initiatives affect her organization’s financial picture? 

In just over three years, with Maynard as CEO, Avanade has: 

  • Made eight acquisitions. (By way of comparison, the company had made seven acquisitions in eleven years of leadership under former CEO, Adam Warby.)
  • Joined the esteemed Microsoft Intelligent Security Association (MISA) alliance.
  • Entered the UAE market by opening offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
  • Been recognized as the Microsoft Alliance Partner of the Year.
  • Built its first US-based engineering center in Tampa, Florida.
  • Reached an all-time peak revenue of $2 billion in 2022.

During one of the most traumatizing eras in recent history, Avanade exploded with progress and innovation.

The compassionate wisdom inside Pamela Maynard provided a grounding gravitas to her entire leadership team, setting the stage for record-setting company growth. In her words:

“There’s no trade-off between care and progress. When we do the trade-off, it’s to the detriment of business performance. Care and performance go hand in hand in terms of creating the results we need for clients, employees, and stakeholders.”

Avanade’s success under Pamela Maynard’s compassionate leadership is not a fluke. Over the last decade, research on empathy and compassion in the workplace has expanded significantly. We now know, without a doubt, that compassionate leadership is hugely beneficial to an organization’s bottom line.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about providing leaders with inspiration and strategies for instilling cultures of care in the workplace. In a world of ongoing trauma, it’s clear that business success goes hand in hand with compassionate leadership. 

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.