Gentle Leadership: Learning Compassion, Humility, and Empathy

Gentle leadership is an emerging and influential style of management that emphasizes compassion, humility, and empathy. As business schools aim to develop great future leaders, understanding and cultivating this leadership style is critical.

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A leader should be empathetic, humble, and compassionate

What is gentle leadership?

The concept of what we call gentle leadership was first introduced by author James Hunter. Gentle leaders lead by serving their teams and putting the needs of others first. They show respect and seek to persuade rather than coerce.

Studies have found that leaders who exhibit compassion are perceived as stronger and more effective. Gentle leadership builds trust, enhances collaboration and commitment, and lowers turnover.

Should a leader be gentle?

Organizations with gentle leaders experience higher productivity and better outcomes. A study by Daniel Goleman and presented in Harvard Business Review found that gentle leadership is linked to performance and, in turn, revenue growth. Rather than ruling by fear, these leaders empower people through vision, trust, and understanding. They focus on developing teams through encouragement and constructive feedback. They are self-aware and make growth in these areas a priority. This type of leadership leads to increased morale and efficiency.

Cultivating gentle leadership

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. - Matthew 11:29, Bible, King James Version

Experts recommend focusing on emotional intelligence, active listening, and leading by example. Gentle leaders ask thoughtful questions and acknowledge team members’ perspectives. They delegate responsibilities to help team members grow.

Courses in mindfulness and compassion can build empathy and self-control. Mentorship from other gentle leaders provides invaluable guidance.

Are there steps to becoming a gentle leader?

There are many ways to become a more mindful leader. The most prominent ones are:

  • Leading by example: Gentle leaders should model the behavior they want to see in others. If you want your team to be transparent, be transparent. Leading by example builds trust and respect.
  • Develop emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ): EQ allows you to understand others and meet their needs. Work on developing self-awareness, empathy, and emotional control. Seek feedback and be open to growth.
  • Actively listen: Make it a priority to listen to your team members. Avoid interrupting or judging. Ask thoughtful questions to understand their perspectives. Validate their feelings and ideas. Active listening builds connection and understanding.
  • Create a safe environment: Foster an environment where everyone feels safe speaking up and taking risks. Make it clear that you welcome questions and ideas. Handle mistakes with understanding. Psychological safety promotes engagement and innovation.
  • Mentor: Invest time in coaching team members to develop their strengths and improve where needed. Be encouraging and provide constructive feedback and guidance. Developing people demonstrates you care.
  • Practice self-care: Care for yourself so you can care for others. Manage stress through healthy habits. Set boundaries, and do not be afraid to take breaks. Reflect on what replenishes you. Self-care prevents burnout and compassion fatigue.


As economies and businesses grow more complex, gentle leadership will continue to gain influence. It emphasizes humility, compassion, and service to others and benefits organizations, teams, and individuals. Business schools serve students well by highlighting gentle leadership principles and equipping graduates to lead with care and wisdom.

Whether it is Models of Self-Identity, Leadership and Embodiment Practices, or Integral Development and Transformative Leadership, Meridian University’s MBA in Creative Enterprise programming is actuating our next generation of global leaders. With a focus on whole-person and whole-system competencies, graduates gain unique strategic perspectives not found in other programs.

If you want to know more about the MBA in Creative Enterprise, please contact a Student Admissions Advisor or apply online today.


  1. JD Hunter Associates (n.d.). Biography - James C. Hunter. Retrieved September 17, 2023, from http://www.jameshunter.com/biography
  2. Coleman, D. What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader

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