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The Best Leaders Show Employees That They Matter

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By April Townsend
November 7, 2022

Organizations rated as the “best” by employee surveys have one thing in common: they have a compassionate culture. These organizations are successful because they intentionally care for and support their employees. When employees enjoy the environment they are working in, they’re more likely to stay. However, creating a compassionate culture requires a different type of leader—one who fosters a collaborative work environment in a way that makes employees feel both supported and valued. In the article Can Compassion Make You a Better Leader?, we explored the value of compassion in the workplace. In this article, compassion is offered as a tool that supports this new way of leading.

3 Steps to Incorporating Compassion

  1. Is it safe? An important component of showing compassion at work is creating a psychologically safe environment. This includes normalizing conversations that encourage employees to be honest about their needs, which may require you to think about the work culture you’re creating. Ask yourself:
    • How do I make sure that each person on my team knows that they matter?
    • How do I stay curious so I can learn what my employees need?
    • How do I help others find meaning in the work that they do?
    • What steps am I taking to make sure I listen more and talk less?
    • How do I encourage my team to collaborate?
  2. Tune in.  Instead of being the one with all the answers, acknowledge that employees are in the best position to know what they need. Your role as leader is to focus on creating an environment where honest communication is encouraged, including open discussions about challenges and needs. Being supportive and responsive to your employees’ requests means treating them as people—and people want to matter. Show that they matter by listening to their thoughts and ideas. Involve them in finding possible solutions by asking:
    • From your perspective, what matters most?
    • I’m intrigued about the idea that you offered. Can we explore what that might look like together?
    • What do you feel is the real challenge here and how can we address it?
    • Do you see other options that have potential?
  3. Show gratitude. Finally, continue to show you care for your employees by staying positive, being transparent, and supporting their well-being. You can actively help your team avoid burnout by taking time to intentionally show gratitude for them as individuals and for what they contribute to the team.

Don’t Forget to Embrace Self-Compassion

Speaking of burnout, don’t forget to show yourself some compassion. There are some who subscribe to the belief that to be a successful leader you must remain independent, aloof and fiercely competitive all while holding yourself to unreasonable standards of perfection. When things go badly, critical self-talk is all too common and exacerbates feelings of stress and inadequacy. As Adam Grant offered, “Beating yourself up doesn’t make you stronger. It leaves you bruised.”

Current research on evolutionary theory, psychology and neuroscience underscores the value of embracing a more self-compassionate style. There is profound value in recognizing and silencing your inner critic and reframing your observations in a way that’s more self-compassionate and affirming. In fact, leaders with high standards who show self-compassion by giving themselves permission to make mistakes are an asset.

Why? Because adopting a self-compassionate leadership style has been directly linked with higher levels of happiness, optimism, wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity and exploration. One of the key reasons is that when you practice self-compassion, you’re better able to see failures as learning opportunities and as a chance to improve—both for yourself and for others. Such a mindset is beneficial because it gives you permission to adapt, rather than deny or avoid problems.

Research has shown that by adopting a mindset where you take a supportive, kind and non-judgmental stance toward yourself, you identify more strongly with the role of leader. You’re more likely to work effectively with others, in part because you’re more open to engaging them in exploring all possible solutions to the challenges you’re facing. Others see this and perceive you as more competent. 


You have a lot on your plate and while you can’t control the uncertainty and change coming at you, you can choose how you show up at work. As a leader, your presence influences and sets the tone for everyone around you. Showing yourself and others on your team compassion can play a key role in improving your ability to listen. When those on your team feel heard and valued, your compassionate leadership can reduce the anxiety they feel in the face of uncertainty and change, while encouraging them to move forward as a team. With so many people choosing to leave their jobs, showing people that they matter can go a long way in retaining an engaged workforce. The best leaders and organizations know this, and so do their employees.

Author: Dr. April Townsend worked in local government for over 30 years, holding a variety of executive leadership and management positions. She is currently a Scholar-in-Residence with the Utah Women and Leadership Project and owner of Townsend Consulting, LLC, providing leadership coaching and organizational consulting services. She can be reached at April@ Townsend.Consulting.  Twitter handle: @AprilT2014

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