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Articles from Compassionate Leadership News


Alara's Experience

by Alara Tiernan
I’ll be up front with my agenda for this piece of writing.  I would very much like to turn your head in this direction – toward a ‘yes’ for Compassionate Leadership.  Your heart is probably already turned on and tuned in.  But the head may need a bit more negotiation.  If your ‘inner accountant’ is the voice of  resistance, then I invite you to read on.  There are riche$ to be had here, of at least two kinds.  If your experience at CL is anything like mine or the 20 other participants from last year, you will deposit gobs of priceless inner wealth into your forever bank account, which in my opinion is the most secure and valuable investment anywhere in this dimension.  However, for those of us who eat and enjoy a roof over our noggins, I am also referring to deposits of the solidly three-dimensional “cha-ching!” variety as well.  The proof I have lies in my $tory.  

During Compassionate Leadership last year I chose to leave my mediocre career in search of something that met more of my needs.  Since that time, I have been offered four executive positions, offering more money, responsibility and growth than my previous employment.  In fact, two of those job offers came during the first 15 minutes of an initial phone interview!  Each opportunity was with successful companies in distinctly different genres of the business world, with dozens of competing applicants.  

Needless to say, this almost unbelievable reality was never before experienced by me in my working life.

What was the reason for this remarkable feedback I was getting?  I asked.  Within every answer was the identical theme:  my communication mastery and my presence.  It was startling and refreshing for these professionals to experience the contrasting quality of myself compared to the other applicants they were seeing.  Regardless of the field of business or job title I was applying for, these hiring authorities were hungry – no…starved – for genuine skillful conversation.  They saw and valued the affect it would have on the financial bottom line, as well as on the company culture and work environment.  These folks wanted me to help create a different world for them at work - they desired the world I most want to live in!
Pause for applause and deep bows, acknowledging the evolvement of our world, and the part we’ve all played in our unique and vital ways.

The happily ever after is that I chose a position which I greatly enjoy and am thrilled to be a part of.  I humbly credit the Compassionate Leadership intensive for my unparalleled edge in the job market.  This skill set will continue to pay me back exponentially for the resources I have invested.  
I’m curious if you see any way that the skills of connecting compassionately might affect your own bottom line.  The good news is that even if you don’t see the value, someone else very likely will!

My name is Alara Tiernan.  After receiving a super-duper-life-changing degree of payoff from my first year with CL, I want MORE!  I will be serving as participant and intern for the upcoming CL13 experience.  Should you wish to chat with a previous participant to support your decision process, I extend my welcoming invitation.    
You may email me at: 


Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader

by Bill George  |   8:00 AM October 26, 2012

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, I have sensed from many leaders that they want to do a better job of leading in accordance with their personal values. The crisis exposed the fallacies of measuring success in monetary terms and left many leaders with a deep feeling of unease that they were being pulled away from what I call their True North.

As markets rose and bonus pools grew, it was all too easy to celebrate the rising tide of wealth without examining the process that created it. Too many leaders placed self-interest ahead of their organizations' interests, and ended up disappointing the customers, employees, and shareholders who had trusted them. I often advise emerging leaders, "You know you're in trouble when you start to judge your self-worth by your net worth." Nevertheless, many leaders get caught up in this game without realizing it.

This happened to me in 1988, when I was an executive vice president at Honeywell, en route to the top. By external standards I was highly successful, but inside I was deeply unhappy. I had begun to focus too much on impressing other people and positioning myself to become CEO. I was caught up with external measures of success instead of looking inward to measure my success as a human and a leader. I was losing my way.

My colleague, Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, addressed this topic in his HBR article, How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay observed that few people, if any, intend at the outset of their career to behave dishonestly and hurt others. Early on, even Bernie Madoff and Enron's Jeff Skilling planned to live honest lives. But then, Christensen says, they started making exceptions to the rules "just this once."

At Harvard Business School, we are challenging students to think hard about their definition of success and what's important in their lives. Instead of viewing success as reaching a certain position or achieving a certain net worth, we encourage these future leaders to see success as making a positive difference in the lives of their colleagues, their organizations, their families, and society as a whole. The course that I created in 2005, Authentic Leadership Development (ALD), has become one of the most popular elective MBA courses, thanks to my HBS colleagues who are currently teaching it. It enables second-year MBAs to ground their careers in their beliefs, values, and principles, following the authentic leadership process described in my 2007 book, True North. More recently, ALD has become a very popular course for executives of global companies.

With all the near-term pressures in today's society, especially in business, it is very difficult to find the right equilibrium between achieving our long-term goals and short-term financial metrics. As you take on greater leadership responsibilities, the key is to stay grounded and authentic, face new challenges with humility, and balance professional success with more important but less easily quantified measures of personal success. That is much easier said than done.

The practice of mindful leadership gives you tools to measure and manage your life as you're living it. It teaches you to pay attention to the present moment, recognizing your feelings and emotions and keeping them under control, especially when faced with highly stressful situations. When you are mindful, you're aware of your presence and the ways you impact other people. You're able to both observe and participate in each moment, while recognizing the implications of your actions for the longer term. And that prevents you from slipping into a life that pulls you away from your values.

I don't use the word "practice" lightly. In order to gain awareness and clarity about the present moment, you must be able to quiet your mind. That is tremendously difficult and takes a lifetime of practice. In 2012, I had the privilege of presenting my ideas on authentic leadership to his Holiness the Dalai Lama. When I asked him what it took to become an authentic leader, he replied, "You must have practices that you engage in every day."

My most important introspective practice is meditation, something I try to do for twenty minutes twice a day. In 1975 I went with my wife Penny to a Transcendental Meditation (TM) Workshop. Although I never adopted the spiritual portion of TM, the physical practice became an integral part of my daily routine. Meditation has been a godsend for me. As an active leader who has held highly stressful roles since my mid-twenties, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in my early thirties. When I started meditating, I was able to stay calmer and more focused in my leadership, without losing the "edge" that I believed had made me successful. Meditation enabled me to cast off the many trivial worries that once possessed me and gain clarity about what was really important. I gradually became more self-aware and more sensitive to the impact I was having on others. Just as important, my blood pressure returned to normal and stayed there.

In recent years, medical studies have found evidence of meditation's many benefits, including protecting against health problems from high blood pressure and arthritis to infertilityreducing stress, improving attention and sensory processing; and physically altering parts of the brain associated with learning and memory, emotional regulation, and perspective-taking — critical cognitive skills for leaders attempting to maintain their equilibrium under constant pressure.

While many CEOs and companies are embracing meditation, it may not be for everyone. The important thing is to have a set time each day to pull back from the intense pressures of leadership to reflect on what is happening. In addition to meditation, I know leaders who take time for daily journaling, prayer, and reflecting while walking, hiking or jogging. I also find it extremely helpful to share the day's events with Penny and seek her counsel.

Regardless of the daily introspective practice you choose, the pursuit of mindful leadership will help you achieve clarity about what is important to you and a deeper understanding of the world around you. Mindfulness will help you clear away the trivia and needless worries about unimportant things, nurture passion for your work and compassion for others, and develop the ability to empower the people in your organization.

More blog posts by Bill George

More on: LeadershipManaging yourself


Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and former chair and CEO of Medtronic.


Compassion is Linked to Physical Health

Faye Landey, CL Trainer
What Is Stress?  stress    A situation arises, and you immediately react: you want to get away, fight it out or just shut down. These inherent reactions saved your ancestors from real tangible danger, and here you are today with a strong sense of survival instinct that kicks in automatically. While this saved your predecessors, too much of this kind of hormonal stress can directly affect your wellbeing adversely.

Science has linked stress to one of the cranial nerves known as the vagus nerve, which wanders through the body, affecting  inflammation, blood pressure and other physical consequences, some of which can cause life threatening diseases.

So what does the vagus nerve have to do with us here? Research also shows a direct relationship between compassion and the vagus nerve.   Compassion you ask?   Yes, science has linked compassion to a healthy vagus nerve  and better physical health.  So along with your exercise and nutrition you can now add compassion to your daily regime.

This is quite exciting for us who offer a program calledCOMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP!   Compassion is more than just a nice way to connect with others or with yourself; it may actually be a way to save your own life.


Here are some steps for you to consider when you find yourself reacting in a less than compassionate way.  (In addition to this brief synopsis, join us on Saturday to delve into more detail and exercises that relate to compassion.)

1.  Pause  Breathe. Stop long enough to witness the situation.   In NVC language, that means to make an observation of the facts without evaluation or good-or-bad assessment. What just happened?

2.  Become Aware  Notice what is going on in your body. The sensations may be blatantly obvious such as rage, shame, or terror, or the feeling may be quite subtle and go unnoticed. Pay close attention and become tuned in 

3.  Avoid Blame Like the Plague  Blame and fault finding are the antitheses for compassion. This applies to finding fault with yourself as well as blaming outside factors or people. Remember that blaming can lead to your own demise. (Remember the saying "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die"?  -   now we can say "Finding fault is like pointing a gun at your own head and pulling the trigger in order to feel better".

4.  Acknowledge and Distance  While it is important to acknowledge your pain or discomfort rather than deny or stifle, it is also important to know that you are NOT your feelings - notice that you are experiencing your feelings. And know that they are telling you something. (Death is your body's final way of telling you to slow down, so start listening now). 

You will have an opportunity to learn more about these steps on Saturday during the Taste call.

 5.  Befriend Yourself and Listen  This can be a difficult step if your thoughts and feelings are painful to tap into. So step way back away from yourself, and offer yourself consideration and acknowledgement that your pain is so great. Listen to this and acknowledge and distance from this as well.*

*The actual learning process for experiencing this step will be offered on Saturday November 17, 2012 as the topic for the Taste of Compassionate Leadership, and you are invited to join in person or listen to the recording a week or so after November 17 which will be found in the "Free Teleclasses" page:

6.   What is Going Well Right in this Moment?  There is always something to focus on that is going well in this moment. Your heart is beating and you are still breathing. Your blood is flowing. This is the time to get out of your head and to EXPERIENCE internal awareness for anything that feels hopeful, comforting, soothing. Notice something from any of your senses that is pleasing to your sight, your smell, your hearing. Maybe it is the temperature of the room that is comfortable. Maybe the chair you are sitting in feels nice to your tushie.  

Find SOMETHING genuinely pleasing in the moment no matter how mundane. The toilet flushes, the sun brought daylight, there is shelter from the weather. Anything. This will help to divert the continuing of the hardwiring of your brain patterns to a new pathway. Substitute a different thought - preferably a positive one.

If you want to experience this process, please join us on Saturday November 17 at 7:00 Eastern for the free teleclass.

Compassionately yours,

Faye Landey for the CL Team 


We've Come A Long Way, Baby - And The Ride is Just Beginning!

Faye Landey, CL Trainer

Change is inevitable, would you agree?  And it's looking pretty good for us humans.

The growth of Humanistic Psychology and Humanistic Technology* is well on its way, and Compassionate Leadership continues to play a major role in recognizing the value and potential of the individual human - now in the realm of  Business and Corporate performance.

Adding  an NVC and Business Track is our way of integrating Humanistic Technology into how we work, make a living, and treat one another in industry and commerce.


Faye Landey

In my life time alone I have seen monumental historic changes - mostly in science and technology and less so in the realm of the inner workings of the individual human.  Here are some examples of change that readily come to mind:    The family huddling around a five foot radio as the only method for receiving information, has now been replaced by a tiny smart phone that answers my questions and visually guides me to my destination.

I was fascinated taking my first propeller plane ride as a kid thinking that air travel had reached its zenith, and yet this summer I watched the Curiosity Rover Satellite landing on Mars.  (Saw it on my smart phone).    There seems to be no limit as to what the future of travel may hold for us.

The world is smaller, and  now access to resources from around the planet is at my fingertips: No longer do I have to wait for the local farmers to bring fresh veggies to the fruit stand on the corner... my local super market has vine ripe produce all year long.

Not all changes have been life serving in my opinion, so I won't devote any time discussing the continuing development of ways to destroy human life.

So What About the Human Factor?

Have we lagged behind in consideration of the impoverished worker and over looked respect for the human element while focusing on advancement and success?

When I was a child, factors of race, religion, age and gender blatantly served as impediments for careers, education and social inclusion. There was little or no appreciation for the individual underneath the skin color, gender, nationality or religious affiliation. In fact inherent talents and gifts of an individual were rejected in favor of homogeneity and conformity.

Words like mindfulness, interpersonal growth, yoga, meditation, intuition, soul  and self-actualization were banished from  mainstream society and propriety.

This brings me to today: there truly is a new dawning!   I am bursting with excitement about the focus on the inner self - the  interest, needs, and well-being of the individual human.

The fundamental belief of humanistic psychology and humanistic technology is that people are innately good and that mental and social problems result from deviations from this natural tendency.

Recognize any similarity between these words and Rosenberg's concepts of universal needs of all humans and that violence is a tragic expression of unmet needs?




Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership

by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis

In 1998, one of us, Daniel Goleman, published in these pages his first article on emotional intelligence and leadership. The response to “What Makes a Leader?” was enthusiastic. People throughout and beyond the business community started talking about the vital role that empathy and self-knowledge play in effective leadership. The concept of emotional intelligence continues to occupy a prominent space in the leadership literature and in everyday coaching practices. But in the past five years, research in the emerging field of social neuroscience—the study of what happens in the brain while people interact—is beginning to reveal subtle new truths about what makes a good leader.

The salient discovery is that certain things leaders do—specifically, exhibit empathy and become attuned to others’ moods—literally affect both their own brain chemistry and that of their followers. Indeed, researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system. We believe that great leaders are those whose behavior powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness. We place them on the opposite end of the neural continuum from people with serious social disorders, such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome, that are characterized by underdevelopment in the areas of the brain associated with social interactions. If we are correct, it follows that a potent way of becoming a better leader is to find authentic contexts in which to learn the kinds of social behavior that reinforce the brain’s social circuitry. Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.

The notion that effective leadership is about having powerful social circuits in the brain has prompted us to extend our concept of emotional intelligence, which we had grounded in theories of individual psychology. A more relationship-based construct for assessing leadership is social intelligence, which we define as a set of interpersonal competencies built on specific neural circuits (and related endocrine systems) that inspire others to be effective.

The idea that leaders need social skills is not new, of course. In 1920, Columbia University psychologist Edward Thorndike pointed out that “the best mechanic in a factory may fail as a foreman for lack of social intelligence.” More recently, our colleague Claudio Fernández-Aráoz found in an analysis of new C-level executives that those who had been hired for their self-discipline, drive, and intellect were sometimes later fired for lacking basic social skills. In other words, the people Fernández-Aráoz studied had smarts in spades, but their inability to get along socially on the job was professionally self-defeating.

What’s new about our definition of social intelligence is its biological underpinning, which we will explore in the following pages. Drawing on the work of neuroscientists, our own research and consulting endeavors, and the findings of researchers affiliated with the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, we will show you how to translate newly acquired knowledge about mirror neurons, spindle cells, and oscillators into practical, socially intelligent behaviors that can reinforce the neural links between you and your followers.

Followers Mirror Their Leaders—Literally

Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain. Italian neuroscientists found them by accident while monitoring a particular cell in a monkey’s brain that fired only when the monkey raised its arm. One day a lab assistant lifted an ice cream cone to his own mouth and triggered a reaction in the monkey’s cell. It was the first evidence that the brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.

Mirror neurons have particular importance in organizations, because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds. The effects of activating neural circuitry in followers’ brains can be very powerful. In a recent study, our colleague Marie Dasborough observed two groups: One received negative performance feedback accompanied by positive emotional signals—namely, nods and smiles; the other was given positive feedback that was delivered critically, with frowns and narrowed eyes. In subsequent interviews conducted to compare the emotional states of the two groups, the people who had received positive feedback accompanied by negative emotional signals reported feeling worse about their performance than did the participants who had received good-natured negative feedback. In effect, the delivery was more important than the message itself. And everybody knows that when people feel better, they perform better. So, if leaders hope to get the best out of their people, they should continue to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams. The old carrot-and-stick approach alone doesn’t make neural sense; traditional incentive systems are simply not enough to get the best performance from followers.

Here’s an example of what does work. It turns out that there’s a subset of mirror neurons whose only job is to detect other people’s smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return. A boss who is self-controlled and humorless will rarely engage those neurons in his team members, but a boss who laughs and sets an easygoing tone puts those neurons to work, triggering spontaneous laughter and knitting his team together in the process. A bonded group is one that performs well, as our colleague Fabio Sala has shown in his research. He found that top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did midperforming leaders. Being in a good mood, other research finds, helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively. In other words, laughter is serious business.   To read more go to the Harvard Review