In Times of Crisis, Leadership is Compassion

Key Takeaways 

  • Compassion is how principled leaders make decisions.
  • Personal leadership and advocacy are more important than ever.

More than strength, resilience, charisma, intelligence and an ability to solve problems quickly and rationally, what humankind needs in a leader right now is simple. We need someone who values humanity.

Compassion, the pillar of principled leadership, is essential.

James MacGregor Burns, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History and authority on leadership studies, wrote that leaders who can transform understand that "leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation." This sort of transformational leadership is what we need now.

As we watch unbearable news story after unbearable news story, we see that government and community leaders being put to the ultimate test. Those who have compassion are not always making easy decisions, but they are making people-focused decisions.

The proposal before civil servants is complex, but it is also simple: Are they limited to transactional leadership, or can they transcend and better prepare us to rebuild? The behaviors exhibited thus far have made each leader’s response to these unprecedented times incredibly transparent.

In this era of COVID-19, we all find ourselves impacted by the collective economic fallout and the psychological drain in some way. Some have lost jobs; others have lost family or friends. We have all lost, to a certain extent, our ability to connect.

While the bombardment of news that feels impossible to digest seems enough of an obstacle, shortsighted leadership decisions are costing lives. Inequality of access to basic resources in general is not only an issue, it is indicative of a need for change in many areas around the world.

Because there is no superhero in the wings, as far as I know, individuals with access to leadership education need to dive deep right now. By focusing on what we can control, rather than what we cannot, we can use our voting power and voices to uplift true people-focused leaders in our communities, societies, government and around the world in every single home and with every single human exchange.

True leadership is not necessarily going to come from those in power, but rather from those who empower. It is time to study those who were able to find personal leadership and voice their advocacy for others; those such as Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela have wisdom to offer that extends beyond their lifetimes.

So what can we, individuals, do today?

In the sense of personal leadership, where we see injustices, we can become allies; for those suffering from lack of resources, we can offer support. There is no better time to find our voices, to stand up, to support those who are making decisions we can stand behind — and to take a lead ourselves in defining our own future.

What we need in our leaders now is relentless compassion. And as time changes shape in quarantine, and as people run the gamut of emotional responses and struggle day-to-day, this compassion will carry us through. It will set examples, and it will grow exponentially.


Burns, James MacGregor Burns, (1978), Leadership, N.Y, Harper and Row.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.