How leaders shape compassion processes in organizations

By: Jane Dutton, Monica Worline

Worline, M. and J. Dutton. How Leaders Shape Compassion Processes in Organizations. In E. Seppala, J. Doty, M. Worline, D. Cameron, S. Brown, and E. Simon-Thomas (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Compassionate Science, New York: Oxford University Press, October 24, 2017. Doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190464684.013.31


This chapter focuses on how leaders matter for the expression of compassion in organizations. Leaders are imbued with both instrumental and symbolic power to shape individual and organizational responses to suffering. To understand how leaders impact a system’s compassionate responses, we focus on leadership moves, defined as actions taken by leaders in relation to those who are suffering and/or those who are seeking to alleviate suffering. We identify twelve leadership moves and offer a theoretical view of how these twelve leaders’ moves impact the way emergent compassion processes unfold. We focus particularly on the importance of (1) how leadership moves shape the expression of suffering; (2) how leaders draw attention to pain; (3) how leaders feel and express emotion; and (4) how they frame and narrate suffering. This review illuminates the variety of ways that leaders matter and invites further research into new questions about compassion and leadership.