Building a New Generation of Compassionate Leaders

Explore how to nurture a new generation of compassionate leaders, through self-awareness, empathy, and open communication. We outline positive psychology strategies for young people in education to build resilience, develop empathy and become conscious compassionate leaders of the future.

Zeena Hicks

6/28/20234 min read


In today's fast-paced world, the need for compassionate, conscious, and positive leaders is more important than ever. The old model of leadership, which often focused on hierarchy, authority and control, is being surpassed by a more inclusive, empathetic and collaborative approach. We as educators have a crucial role in shaping and guiding the next generation of compassionate leaders by fostering their growth and development throughout school. This week’s article explores the evolution of leadership, along with the strengths, values, and efficacy of a compassionate leader. We will also share practical tools and tips based on positive psychology that can inspire young people to become the empathetic leaders of the future.

The Evolution of Leadership

Over the past few decades, our understanding of effective leadership has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when leaders were seen as infallible and all-knowing figures, making decisions without considering the feelings or perspectives of others. Today, we recognise that some of the most successful leaders are those who are self-aware, can share a genuine concern for others, and work collaboratively to discover new ways to make a difference.

This shift in thinking is due in part to the rise of positive psychology, which emphasises the importance of empathy, emotional intelligence, and resilience in leadership. Research has shown that leaders who exhibit these traits are more effective at motivating and engaging their teams, leading to better performance and higher levels of satisfaction.

Research suggests that human behaviour heavily impacts performance so understanding the psychological, emotional, and social aspects of human interactions in relation to workplace performance and overall productivity is key (1, 2). Factors such as motivation, stress, interpersonal relationships, engagement, and wellbeing all contribute to the effectiveness of employees and their ability to contribute positively to organisational success. In the context of a new compassionate style of leadership, this concept can be supported by evidence showing how emotionally intelligent, empathetic, and inclusive leaders can create a work environment that fosters enhanced performance, collaboration, and happiness among team members (3).

What Does a Compassionate Leader Look Like?

A compassionate leader is someone who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of others and is committed to creating a supportive and inclusive environment. They recognise that everyone has unique strengths and challenges and seek to understand and value these differences (4). Some key traits of compassionate leaders include:

Awareness: Having awareness of self and others, challenging one’s own perceptions, beliefs and impulses with a curious mindset.

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of others, allowing for a deeper connection and more effective communication.

Active listening: Truly hearing and considering the perspectives of others, even if they differ from their own.

Emotional intelligence: The ability to recognise, understand, and manage their own emotions as well as the emotions of others.

Resilience: The capacity to overcome setbacks and adapt to change, demonstrating a growth mindset.

Collaboration: Working together with others to build a compelling direction, set goals, positively influence and overcome challenges.

The Role of Mindfulness in the Compassionate Leaders

Mindfulness plays a significant role in compassionate leadership by promoting self-awareness, emotional regulation, and self-enquiry. Practising mindfulness can encourage the development of a ‘learner’s mindset’ moving away from a way of thinking that is fixed, also known as the ‘knower’s mindset’. This enables the leader to continue to grow and experience compassion for one’s self and others, which are essential components of compassionate leadership. Mindful leaders are better equipped to understand and manage their emotions, and able to recognise the nuances of behavioural change in their team members, leading to a more supportive and inclusive work environment.

Mindfulness also helps leaders develop self-compassion, which is an important aspect of self-care, to protect against the pressures that come with leading a variety of different individuals and teams. Self-compassion consists of three core elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. By cultivating self-compassion, leaders can better understand their own vulnerabilities, are able to empathise with their own struggles and the struggles of others, and ultimately foster a more compassionate and effective leadership style.

Moreover, mindfulness has been recognized as a critical skill for future leaders, as it helps them navigate the challenges and complexities of the modern workplace. Integrating mindfulness into leadership development programs can lead to the cultivation of transformational leaders who are better equipped to handle stress, make thoughtful decisions, and create a positive work culture.

Inspiring Compassionate Leadership in Young People

Educators can play a significant role in nurturing compassionate leaders by creating a learning environment that encourages empathy, collaboration, and resilience. Here are some practical tools and tips based on positive psychology to help inspire young people to become compassionate leaders:

Model compassionate leadership: As an educator, strive to embody the traits of a compassionate leader. Be empathetic, listen actively, and demonstrate emotional intelligence in your interactions with your pupils or students.

Teach empathy: Incorporate activities and discussions that help students understand the feelings and perspectives of others. For example, use literature and current events as opportunities to explore different viewpoints and encourage students to consider how they would feel in similar situations.

Promote a growth mindset: Help students understand that mistakes and setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning. Encourage them to embrace challenges and persevere through difficulties and be prepared to show vulnerability when you don’t get something right!

Encourage collaboration: Design group projects and activities that require students to work together, share ideas, and solve problems cooperatively, where everyone has an interdependent role to play.

Provide opportunities for leadership: Give students the chance to take on leadership roles within the classroom or school community, such as leading a group project, organising an event, or serving as a mentor to younger students.


The development of compassionate leaders is essential for the future success and wellbeing of individuals, organisations, and society as a whole. By understanding the importance of traits such as empathy, active listening, emotional intelligence, resilience, and collaboration in effective leadership, educators can play a crucial role in shaping the next generation of young leaders.

By modelling compassionate leadership, teaching empathy, promoting a growth mindset, encouraging collaboration, and providing leadership opportunities, educators can empower young people to become the empathetic and supportive leaders our world needs.

That's why Positive Education delivers training in Compassionate Leadership for Sixth Form pupils across the UK and Ireland. We believe that by investing in the growth and development of our future leaders, we can help create a more inclusive, compassionate, and successful society, capable of overcoming the challenges of an ever-evolving world.

If you are interested in learning more about how we could implement our Compassionate Leadership program in your school, get in touch on


1. Oswald, A. J., Proto, E., & Sgroi, D. (2015). Happiness and productivity. Journal of labour economics, 33(4), 789-822.

2. Chiok Foong Loke, J. (2001). Leadership behaviours: effects on job satisfaction, productivity and organizational commitment. Journal of nursing management, 9(4), 191-204.

3. Wood, S., Van Veldhoven, M., Croon, M., & de Menezes, L. M. (2012). Enriched job design, high involvement management and organizational performance: The mediating roles of job satisfaction and well-being. Human Relations, 65(4), 419-445.

4. Poorkavoos, M. (2016). Compassionate leadership: What is it and why do organisations need more of it. Horsham: Roffey Park.