Self Compassion

Earlier this month, I facilitated a day’s workshop on a leadership retreat at Henley Business School. The delegates were all MBA final year or alumni, arriving on a crisp wintry day from the UK, Finland, and Romania. Following a mental health and improv sessions, my workshop was on compassion.

We briefly looked at religious and philosophical perspectives on compassion, examined the construct of compassion more fully, and did some work together on enhancing compassion for the self. This final exercise quickly revealed that self-compassion was an unusual experience for most, which has prompted my wondering about how much pain is ‘normal’. How often do we wait for pain to be visible before we respond? How much pain can we continue to operate under, to the detriment of our own mental and physical health? And how can we be in a useful place for others if we aren’t compassionate with ourselves?

Self compassion is a strength, a kindness towards ourselves that we more typically only show to others once their distress becomes obvious. The benefits of self compassion are wide ranging, and supported by social, neuroscientific, and medical research. Benefits include reduced stress, increased peace of mind, and enhanced feelings of wellbeing. In an organisational, sporting, and individual context, self compassion has been shown to improve performance after failure – a much more effective approach than ruminating over what went wrong. In the brain, a self compassionate approach allows us to operate from our rational, thoughtful, pre-frontal cortex rather than the reactive ‘fight or flight’ amygdala. Self compassion increases social connection, thus lowering anxiety and depression. And from a systemic perspective, self compassion allows us to be more mindful of our own impact, and aware of the needs of those in a wider view. The impact of all of these benefits on individuals, organisations, leaders, and systems have never been of greater importance.

One of the delegates commented afterwards that he had been worried that the compassion workshop would be a waste of time, but instead he found it to be incredibly powerful to him personally and in his leadership role. Nothing, it seems, is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.


“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete

(Jack Kornfield)


“Compassion without intelligence is no virtue, but intelligence without compassion is not good management”