We need more compassionate leaders

In today’s rapidly changing world, the need for compassionate leaders has never been more critical. We live in a complex society where hierarchies and power dynamics can shape the way organizations and institutions operate. But there is a more evolved way to lead social groups that not only enhances productivity but also promotes mental well-being: compassionate leadership.

Dominance hierarchies have been a part of our evolutionary history, but we have evolved beyond our crustacean forebearers. Leadership doesn’t have to be rooted in threat and coercion; it can be underpinned by compassion, affiliative motivation, and a focus on the collective well-being of the group. The question is, what is the right formula for leadership, and what truly gets the job done?

Understanding Leadership Styles

Leadership styles can vary significantly, and they play a crucial role in determining the atmosphere and effectiveness of an organization. Traditional autocratic leadership, based on hierarchy and obedience, tends to be coercive and focused solely on achieving organizational goals. It often involves low levels of trust and relies on threats to maintain control.

However, autocratic leadership, while it can produce short-term results, can also slide towards tyranny. It may not take into account the mental health and well-being of the workforce, leading to demoralization and inefficiency.

Lessons from the Animal World

Studies of mammalian behavior provide valuable insights into leadership dynamics. For instance, young mammals like rats develop dominance hierarchies during play. Interestingly, the larger animal doesn’t win by sheer physical strength alone; if they pin the smaller one more than 70% of the time, the game breaks down, and the smaller animal withdraws. Coercion without persuasion is ineffective.

Similarly, research in primatology by Frans de Waal shows that in the animal kingdom, the alpha male must possess qualities like generosity, empathy, and the ability to maintain peace within the group. These qualities, rooted in emotional intelligence, enable them to exert influence and maintain their position at the top of the hierarchy.

Applying Lessons to the Workplace

In the human world, studies suggest that democratic leadership approaches tend to outperform autocratic management. Meaningful relational connections at work contribute to lower stress, increased engagement, and greater productivity. Hierarchy is necessary, but it must be infused with emotional equality. This means that while hierarchies can exist, leaders must foster an environment of care and support.

Compassionate leadership is a motivational system that stems from our basic human instinct to care and create safe affiliative relationships. It’s not just about the elimination of threats but about the creation of safety in a caring, supportive, helpful, and friendly environment. In this secure context, employees are inspired to do their best because they want to, not because they fear the consequences of underperformance.

The Role of Women in Compassionate Leadership

Studies consistently show that women face longer waiting periods for promotions and are promoted more slowly than men with similar education and experience. Yet, when women do reach leadership positions, the evidence suggests that they excel. Women often excel in “transformational leadership,” where they mentor and empower employees, encourage them to develop their full potential, and engage their trust.

Transformational leadership is characterized by democratic rather than autocratic leadership. It involves inspiring employees, allowing them to contribute their views, and using rewards to reinforce good performance. Women are particularly good at these aspects of leadership, creating environments that promote well-being, personal development, and productivity.

The Way Forward

In conclusion, compassionate leadership is an antidote to tyranny in organizations. Leaders who prioritize compassion, emotional intelligence, and the well-being of their team members are not only more effective but also create a healthier work environment. Women, with their natural inclination towards transformational leadership, have a unique opportunity to make a significant difference in the world of leadership.

As an emotional intelligence and leadership coach, I’m passionate about helping women harness their leadership potential. By embracing compassionate leadership and nurturing their emotional intelligence, women can drive positive change in organizations and society as a whole.

If you’re curious about how compassionate leadership and emotional intelligence coaching can transform your leadership journey, please feel free to reach out to me. Together, we can work towards a more compassionate and inclusive future.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sophie


As I was reading Stephen Blumenthal and Deborah Lee’s illuminating piece on “Compassionate Leadership: An Antidote to Tyranny,” I couldn’t help but ponder the transformative power of compassion in leadership.

Their insights, combined with Mary Ann Sieghart’s thought-provoking book, “The Authority Gap,” inspired me to explore the profound impact of compassionate leadership, especially in the context of empowering women.


  1. Blumenthal, S., & Lee, D. (April 2023). Compassionate Leadership: An Antidote to Tyranny. The British Psychological Society. https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/compassionate-leadership-antidote-tyranny (accessed 19 September 2023).
  2. Sieghart, M. A. (2021). The Authority Gap. Why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it. Penguin Random House, UK.