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Jacqui McGill AO

Non Executive Director

Compassion and Leadership

One of my favourite Podcast is the ABC’s  All in the Mind.  This week whilst out walking, I struck gold with Leadership in Mind if you can spare 30 mins it is well worth a listen.

The episode covered positive psychology and neuroscience and how they can play a role in creating good leaders.  The two main interviewees were Rasmus Hougaard from The Potential Project and Sue Langely from the Langley institute.  Both spoke to the importance of mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion in being a good leader.  They described the three characteristics like this;

Selflessness;  not leading for your own gain, leading for the bigger impact, seeing the bigger picture rather than your own ego centrical desires.

They went on to say that if you have a big ego, you are very vulnerable to criticism, to manipulation, and it is likely you will develop strong confirmation bias and create a Leadership bubble where you only hear what you want to hear.  And as a result, you won’t connect with your clients or your people.

This reminds me of a meeting I had with a CEO of a services firm, he informed me that he was on a listening tour of Australia – where he wanted to listen to the customer experience of his organisation.  And then he talked for the next 45 mins non- stop.  I remember the uncomfortable looks on the faces of his team – needless to say I am sure he got a lot out of our meeting.

Compassion;  intention to want to be of benefit to others. Put simply it is the ability to create better outcomes for others as a result of your interaction’s with them.  In their studies over 35,000 leaders, 96% said compassion is important for their leadership.  They went on to say that leaders over time can lose our ability to empathise with people (involves mirror neurons fading). And one CEO described that he had felt that during 15 years of being a CEO he had lost the ability to empathise.  Rasmus went on to describe compassion as coming after empathy ie it requires action.  Leaders with compassion will try to solve the problem with the person – make it right.

This reminded me of a visit I made to Holden in Elizabeth, prior to their closure.  They had this huge whiteboard which had people’s names on it and their new job.  They invited ex-Holden team members to come back and fill it out.  Seeing it, really made me feel that the leadership team cared for their team members.  I am sure it gave the employees heart, and bolstered the leadership team as well – to see the team members move on to new lives. 

Mindfulness; being focused, not allowing distraction, or other thoughts to highjack your mind.   Done well, it can create a culture where people are more attentive to another, meetings are more effective, people are more aware of how they send emails, and an organisation has a culture of strong sense of focus and priorities.

The good news was that all of these can be taught.  Neuroplasticity – means that our brain can rewire and build stronger neural pathways. The more often you practice selflessness and compassion the better at it you will become.  So I hope I have given you some food for thought!  Take a listen to the full podcast I think you will find that 30 mins a good investment.



MBA, BSc (Extractive Metallurgy)

DAdel (Honoris Causa), GAICD

Adelaide, South Australia



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