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Description: Understanding and showing compassion for the suffering of your teammates, collaborators, audience or users and being motivated to support the relief of that suffering through your creative designs.


Thinking Partner Notes

What’s the fiction: Compassion is a sign of weakness. Leaders cannot afford to show weakness.

What's really true: Compassion encourages collaboration and motivates you to make others stronger. What’s weak about that?


Example: Joe the CEO was known to have a strong personality; he would not back down from arguments easily. Even though his direct reports often disagreed with him, they usually went along with his decision, because what choice did they have? "Put your head down and get it done!" was the understood motto. A new hire, Jessie, was in the meeting room for the first time and made a mis-assumption about a figure that Joe made into a big deal and berated her for. Everyone else saw it as a simple error, no big deal, and it happened all the time given the amount of data they were always distilling. Jessie left the meeting and literally planned to resign. 

That evening, another colleague Sanjay sent out an email to everyone who was in the meeting stating how terrible he felt for not speaking up for Jessie in the moment. The email pointed to several incidents in the past where he and others, including Joe, had made similar errors, and part of the critical reason they had these meetings was to check each other's data and logic. He stated when he started with the company how difficult it was to know where, how, and from whom to get accurate data so he could make sound assumptions. He ended by stating how important it was for each of them to also remember what it was like when they first started and support Jessie so they could all accelerate performance. Fast forward five years, and the leadership team still talk about how that act of compassion and action by Sanjay shifted their "stick your head down" approach to one of strong collaboration instead.

Disclaimer: Neuroscientists Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki write about the difference of Empathy and Compassion. Its important to understand the difference. Their research shows cultivating compassion can support you being  more eager to help others over time than just empathy.

"Empathic people feel the pain of others acutely. Is it possible to be too empathic? Could feeling too deeply for someone else’s pain or  sorrow actually hurt you? Indeed, too much empathy can be debilitating. When we become too distressed about the suffering of others, we don’t have the cognitive and emotional resources available to do much to help them. Having compassion, a cognitive understanding how they’re feeling, is better for our own well-being and the well-being of those in need." Psychology Today


Things to try: 1) Practice encouraging cooperation; 2) Practicing mindfulness; 3) Practice refraining from placing blame on others; 4) Practice acting against inequality; 5) Practice being receptive to others’ feelings without adopting those feelings as your own. 

Next steps: 1) Schedule one-on-one time with each member of your team; 2) During each session, begin the conversation by encouraging them to share the highlight of their last year/quarter/month at work, what went wrong during that time and what they’re looking forward to next year/quarter/month; 3) Next encourage them to share how they feel about working for the team and company; 4) Listen without judgment, being receptive to their feelings.

Additional Resources



Cultivating Compassion

What good looks like in the cultivation of compassion and how you can master this capability.



Cultivating Compassion Media

Dive deep on cultivating compassion through articles, podcasts + more.