Sign of A Good Leader? Leading with Compassion

Sign of A Good Leader? Leading with Compassion

“The sign of a good leader is easy to recognize, though it is hardly ever seen. For the greatest leaders are those who share as equals in the trials and struggles, the demands and expectations, the hills and trenches, the laws and punishments placed upon the backs of those governed. A great leader is motivated not by power but by compassion.”

Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes: Quotes, Thoughts, & a Little Poetry for Every Day of the Year

If you were to ask what the sign of a good leader is in mixed company, respondents would inevitably draw upon their employment experiences and the many managers and supervisors they’ve interacted with throughout their careers.

This would be a perfectly natural response, as we often equate leadership with those possessing managerial or supervisory titles, which are standard practices and hierarchies in the business world.

However, the sign of a good leader is often found in many other settings and circumstances, such as governments, classrooms, soccer fields, theatrical productions, communities, friendships, and even families.

Sometimes, you can even find the sign of a good leader at youth camps. Let me explain.

As children grow and enter their preteen years, parents often struggle to determine the proper age to allow their children additional freedoms and responsibilities outside their day-to-day supervision.

This was the case for the mother in the example I’m about to share.

Maturity in preteens often involves a need to be autonomous, the ability to make choices, and ultimately, the ability to live in the realities of those choices without parental involvement to avert a child’s failures.

Jake was an eleven-year-old boy who longed for autonomy, to be away from his parents’ comfort and protection, and to experience what it was like to navigate the world independently.

So, Jake proposed a week-long youth camp about an hour from home, where he and other girls and boys his age would experience autonomy while disconnecting from video games, cell phones, and the social stressors that come along with them.

While Jake’s mother appreciated a week disconnected from video games and cell phones, she wasn’t convinced her son was prepared to navigate the world independently, even though the camp was teen and adult-supervised and would only last for seven days.

But Jake’s mother also understood how important it was to show her young son how much she trusted him to be responsible, knowing she had provided him with the tools he needed to take care of himself successfully.

In the weeks before the youth camp began, Jake was ecstatic. His mother recognized in him a sense of personal pride that he could leave home alone without begging or convincing.

Though his mother worried he was still too young to handle any unforeseen circumstances that might arise during the week away from home, she understood how critical it was for Jake to be able to trust and rely on himself, even at this young age.

While his mother struggled to hold back tears as Jake boarded the bus, he quickly hugged her goodbye before joining the other eleven-year-old girls and boys equally excited about the journey.

When they arrived at the youth camp, everyone was assigned teen leaders, who were seniors from the local high school. This assignment ensured the preteens were always comfortable and safe and knew who to direct any questions to throughout the week.

After Jake and another boy his age successfully pitched their tent with no issues, it was time to set up their sleeping bags and pillows so they’d be ready for bed later that evening when the boys would undoubtedly be exhausted from the day’s excitement.

That’s when Jake realized he had left his sleeping bag in his room at home, remembering how his mother had given him the responsibility of packing on his own.

Suddenly, Jake felt unable to navigate the world independently, worried that the other kids would make fun of him for forgetting something so important.

As tears began to pool in the young boy’s eyes, his teen leader immediately recognized what was happening and did what all great leaders do. He led with compassion.

After Jake confessed the situation while expressing his shortcomings and disappointment, the teen leader told him that he always packed an extra sleeping bag just in case any of the young campers forgot to bring theirs.

As he handed him the sleeping bag, Jake felt immediate relief that none of the other kids would ever know he’d forgotten his and joy that his tears had dried up before anyone could notice.

But how did the teen leader lead with compassion, you might ask?

Because he didn’t bring an extra sleeping bag with him.

Instead, he spent the week sleeping on the cold, hard ground while helping a young boy feel a little more grown-up and a little less vulnerable.

As Goodrich says, “The sign of a good leader is easy to recognize, though it is hardly ever seen.”

Jake never knew the teen leader didn’t have an extra sleeping bag. Moreover, his mother never told Jake she knew after the teen leader shared the information with her when she picked him up from the bus.

The teen leader showed a level of leadership that was incredibly selfless and representative of what a good leader should be in society, understanding how important it is to support and raise others up without needing personal accolades and recognition.

But that’s different from how most leaders are today, not in our governments, businesses, schools, or even our homes. Most are not leading with compassion but self-preservation.

Rather than motivating individuals through humility, which allows individual members of society to build confidence through feelings of achievement and contribution, many leaders are more interested in taking credit for others’ actions and, sadly, using their reports as someone to blame for their own deficits.

However, the young teen above showed the true sign of a good leader in his ability to lead with compassion, recognize a struggle, and diffuse the situation in any way possible, even if it meant some discomfort to him.

Leadership is about something other than doing what looks suitable for the leader or what’s comfortable at times.

It’s about empowering individuals to reach their fullest potential, believe in their abilities, feel supported, and learn by doing, even if that means someone might be helping in the background along the way.

That can only come when a leader is motivated not by power but by compassion.


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