Compassion in Accountability

Transformational leaders show compassion to individuals without compromising high standards. Learn how to integrate human behavior with corporate goals and maintain a culture of accountability.

This article was originally published in Character Core Magazine by Strata Leadership in the December 2023 edition.

When leaders prioritize compassion for individuals above achieving the mission, everyone loses. But the leader who completely neglects the power of compassion will soon find themselves alone. Leaders that transform people and organizations must integrate human behavior with organizational outcomes. Inexperienced leaders can sometimes be overly compassionate, unintentionally creating a culture of entitlement. In contrast, transformational leaders show compassion to individuals while maintaining the high standards necessary for corporate success. They do this by setting reasonable boundaries, consistently enforcing them, and demonstrating compassion for individuals within the organizational context.


Designing Meaningful Work

A manager's core task is assigning meaningful work. People want their contributions to matter and look toward leaders to make this happen. Most people have an innate drive to strive, create, and build - even teenagers choose to study challenging fields like engineering, driven by a desire to conquer difficulty and make a difference. This longing for purposeful work is as strong as the instinct for self-preservation. Highly engaged employees seek challenging roles and look to their leaders to integrate their efforts with the mission they signed up for. The manager is responsible for defining challenging work relevant to a larger mission.


Valuing Performance and Purpose

In her book "No Ego," Cy Wakeman emphasizes that "not every opinion matters." When asked about improving job performance, self-centered employees prioritize personal comfort, while engaged coworkers focus on the well-being of others and the broader good. Effective leaders exemplify high-order compassion by emphasizing the viewpoints of employees who align with the organizational mission and deftly balance compassion for the whole while making decisions that might cause personal difficulties or stress for some. According to Daniel Goleman in “Primal Leadership,” these leaders exhibit emotional intelligence by thoughtfully integrating other people's emotions into sound decision-making, without indulging the emotions of others.


Upholding Justice

Employees subconsciously test their managers and organizations on perceptions of fairness in processes and the rewards they receive compared to peers (Saks, 2019). A star performer can quickly cease their efforts or resort to negative behaviors like gossip and sabotage when they no longer believe they work in a just system. To maintain high perceptions of justice, managers must hold all people accountable – including themselves, peers, and the leaders over them. Without justice, employee engagement drops, and high performers leave. A leader's behavior is under constant scrutiny, including to whom and how they demonstrate compassion.


Compassion is an indispensable skill of the modern manager – compassion for the individual and a more powerful compassion for the whole. By providing meaningful work, valuing the right behaviors, and maintaining justice, a leader can maintain a collective commitment to excellence, inspiring personal growth and organizational success.



Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Harvard Business School Press.

Saks, A.M. (2019), Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement revisited, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 19-38.

Wakeman, C. (2017). No ego: how leaders can cut the cost of workplace drama, end entitlement, and drive big results. First U. S. edition, first international edition. New York, St. Martin's Press.

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