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Why is self-compassion important for leadership and relationships at work?

The idea of self-compassion might seem incompatible with the leadership style or culture reflected in many workplaces. The modern workplace is challenging though and there are inevitable setbacks, disappointments and complexity in workplace relationships and people dynamics. Self-compassion makes sense when faced with uncertainties and challenges and resource are need to facilitate adaptive coping.

Self-Compassion to navigate setbacks

How we navigate setbacks influences how we lead, relationships and wellbeing within the workplace and organisational performance. There are predictable patterns, common ways some respond to setbacks. Either we become defensive, blaming others, or we berate ourselves, becoming self critical. 

Projecting blame by getting defensive might alleviate the sting of failure, inevitable differences of ideas or misunderstandings in the moment. However, it comes at the expense of self-reflection, understanding oneself, how we relate, and learning from the experience.

On the other hand, self-flagellation, might feel justified in the moment, but it can lead to an inaccurate assessment of one’s abilities and striving behaviours that can lead to burnout. This pessimistic view of oneself can undermine recognition of our potential, how we relate with ourselves and others and our personal development. Neither response is helpful.

How does a self-compassionate response differ?

What if instead, we treated ourselves, as we would a friend in those moments? It's more likely than not, we would be kind, understanding, and encouraging. We'd slow down to reflect and connect more with ourselves and in our relationships with others.

Most leaders of organisations want their workplace to thrive so its people do too. Self-compassion is crucial for that. 

What is self-compassion?

The three key components of self-compassion are:

  • self-kindness
  • a sense of common humanity and
  • balanced, mindful awareness. 

Mindfulness opens us to the present moment, so we can recognise our experience, the cues (physical/somatic, cognitive, emotional) to our wellbeing with greater ease. Common humanity opens us to our essential interrelatedness, so that we know we are not alone. Just like you, your colleagues and others around you might be struggling too. Kindness opens our hearts to the difficulties we face, so we can start to accept our experience and give ourselves what we need. Together they comprise a state of warm-hearted, connected presence. Self-compassion provides the ability to

  • recognise something has happened
  • be curious about what has been triggered within you or between you and another
  • respond with a compassionate, kind, and caring attitude toward the yourself or others when facing difficulties, painful circumstances, or personal failures.

Self-Compassion, work demands, engagement and satisfaction

Research indicates higher levels of self-compassion is associated with more positive work engagement, less emotional, physical and cognitive exhaustion due to work demands and more satisfaction with one's professional life in uncertain and challenging times. 

Learn more about self-compassion

Tara Brach · podcast episode · Cultivating loving-kindness

Kristin Neff · TEDx Centential Park Women · The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion


Bringing Self-Kindness Into the Workplace: Exploring the Mediating Role of Self-Compassion in the Associations Between Attachment and Organizational Outcomes (Reizer, A.). Frontiers in Psychology (2019).

Give yourself a break: The power of Self-Compassion (Chen, S). Harvard Business Review (2018)

Association of Physicians’ Self-Compassion with Work Engagement, Exhaustion, and Professional Life Satisfaction (Babenko, O., Mosewich, A., Lee, A., Koppula, S.) Medical Sciences (2019). 7(2):29.


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