As a change leader, I find myself caught up in the swing of the pendulum between the poles of courageous authenticity and compassionate wisdom. Courageous authenticity is a core value for me. However, if I lean too far into it I can lose the linked core value of compassionate wisdom. Knowing that it is possible to hold both, I’m exploring ways to enhance my ability to lead with compassion — for myself, others, and the world.

What’s the draw toward courageous authenticity?

For me, courageous authenticity is about leading with integrity. When systemic failure and unethical behaviour are obvious, speaking my truth allows me to adhere to my principles even when doing so is uncomfortable. I can be trusted to “walk my talk.”

I notice where those in the system, including myself, are masking their fears with unhealthy behaviours like withdrawal, dependancy, defeatism, control, and rigidity. As an experienced coach, I know that these reactions stem from deep, universal wounds such as rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal, and injustice.

Even with this understanding, I struggle to allow myself to empathize. If I show compassion, will that be seen as condoning actions that have real-world consequences for others?

“Compassion is not enabling; have compassion for the person, not the offense.”

Why nurture compassionate wisdom?

Resistance to compassion is often tied to our own fears and projections – the shadow side of ourselves. We might judge others harshly because we see in them parts of ourselves that we dislike. Self-compassion can also be daunting, as it means confronting our own difficult emotions and pain.

People may be better at holding compassion for others, but not themselves. They avoid self-compassion because the practice is new to them and they fear the unknown. They may also be afraid to confront their pain, believing that once they do so, they will be engulfed in intolerably difficult emotions.

As Ari Cowan wisely stated, “Compassion is not enabling; have compassion for the person, not the offense.” We can say no to harmful actions while still keeping the person in our hearts.

I’m coming to understand that compassion doesn’t mean enabling unethical behaviour. It is possible to hold both, showing compassion while still encouraging action. The longer I consider this tension, the more I realize that compassion is crucial to how I want to show up as a leader.

We explore ways to hold both in the second part of this reflection.

Kerry Woodcock PhD, PCC, ORSCC, ACTC, EIA-SP, ITCA, ESIA, develops core, collective and change leadership capacity in leaders, teams and organizations, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. 

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Even when overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, we can connect, feel, sustain and respond. This August, join us to widen the circle of compassion in our seven-day Compassion Challenge.

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