Compassionate Leadership: Building MORALE

Cultivating my ability to be a good leader has been 18 years in the making, and what I've learned most is that becoming a good leader is a journey, not a destination. And a key ingredient is cultivating compassion.
As an executive for a senior living management company, I was directly responsible for a team of six people and indirectly responsible for each Engagement Director across a 40+ community landscape. That's almost 50 people who were relying on me in some way to be a good leader! Luckily, I worked for a company that prioritized people and consistently created a culture anchored in a growth mindset. 


What Does It Take To Be a Compassionate Leader?

To be a compassionate leader, you must be knowledgeable. Knowledgeable about yourself and knowledgeable about others. Once you become confident in yourself, you can instill that same confidence in others through the lens of accomplishment and growth. By adapting to people's learning styles, actively listening to their needs, and routinely asking the right questions, leaders can leverage compassionate approaches to retain and re-energize staff. An excellent first step to becoming a more compassionate leader is to build team morale. Remember, being a compassionate leader does not happen overnight, and your work at it is never done.
Did you know that AGE-u-cate's Compassionate Touch® program comes with microlearning courses that go beyond learning touch skills? And each course comes with a Huddle Guide to help you cultivate conversation that leads to skill-building as a leader. 

View Compassionate  Touch Program Options




Why is MORALE important?

According to, morale carries the following definitions: 

1: moral principles, teachings, or conduct

2 (a): the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand

    (b): a sense of common purpose with respect to a group
3: the level of individual psychological well-being based on such factors as a sense of purpose and confidence in the future

In the aging services industry, a lot, if not everything, depends on the work of a team.  No person on that team is more important than the other, and a team functions best when each person understands and feels their importance is connected to the group's goal.  It's the job of leaders to keep that understanding and feeling - the team's morale - intact.    


6 Strategies to Keep MORALE

Here are 6 strategies to help you keep MORALE in mind as you lead and engage with your team.

  • Mindfulness

  • Open Communication

  • Recognition

  • Accountability

  • Leading by Example

  • Empowerment


Mindfulness: Being Present and Aware

How you engage in each interaction and react to stressful situations sets the tone for your leadership style and sets the bar for your team to perform. There are many ways to channel mindfulness, and many of us need daily practice to make being present and aware a sustainable habit. In the context of being a compassionate leader, mindfulness involves pushing aside past happenings with the person or situation at hand, pushing away other people or projects on your mind, and pushing away personal feelings to be present at the moment. Once we become present, we can be more aware of what the other person is experiencing and feeling, otherwise known as empathy. When we enter into an empathetic space, we can reframe our thoughts to prepare ourselves better to act and lead with compassion.

A big part of mindfulness in preparation for practicing compassionate leadership is self-compassion. Are you feeling a sense of burnout as a leader? Perhaps your team is feeling this too? Check out AGE-u-cate's Coping with Caregiver Burnout course to get a head start on simple ways to bring balance back for you and your team.

Open Communication: Kind vs. Nice

Are being kind and being nice the same? Not according to these definitions. Niceness centers on pleasing others and being polite so as not to offend. Kindness is taking concrete action to help others, addressing a person's needs, regardless of tone, and permitting success and failure. Aiming for niceness creates a culture of artificial harmony where the surface seems fine, while the current underneath can be deadly. Kindness creates a culture of authenticity where vulnerability is rewarded to help. Here's an example – someone complains that they are cold. Niceness says, "I'm so sorry you're cold," in a caring tone. Kindness is saying, "You've said that five times. Here is a sweater." By being kind, you're opening the door with an offer to do something about a person's situation.

Now, being a kind leader is refining your approach to extend kindness while also being compassionate. While being kind addresses a person's needs, regardless of tone, as a leader, our tone does matter. That's where compassion comes in and the ability to harness empathy and reframe situations and turn it into guidance for action. Having direct and timely conversations is an essential part of being a kind and compassionate leader. It's also important to be clear and transparent when communicating with others. Sugarcoating feedback or delaying a conversation because it will be difficult for you to have or unpleasant to the person is never kind. Giving a person the opportunity to share their perspective while also uncovering facts and a direction forward is some sort. We are here to help people navigate towards success, even through failure. Here's another example – a person on your team is constantly late for work. Being nice is listening to their reasons and displaying empathy for their situation, saying "I'm so sorry that happened to you. Try to be on time next time, please." Being kind is listening to their reason and displaying compassion, saying, "I understand the reason you were late today. When you are late, your colleagues have to take on extra work. What is the next step we can take to help you arrive to work on time?"

Recognition: One Size Does Not Fit All

When we think about recognition or praise, we often default to the way we like to be recognized or rewarded. To build deeper connections with your team, recognition must be personalized. What's important to one person might not be necessary to another. An excellent way to know how each person appreciates recognition is to ask them. A good question might be, "When is the last time you felt appreciated?" This will give you much more insight! And the more you engage in conversation with your team, the more ideas you will generate for ways to make each person feel uniquely valued. And don't forget that sometimes a little goes a long way.

Accountability: Partners vs. Parents

No one wants to be micromanaged. Research is endless on the adverse effects of micromanagement on productivity and healthy work culture. Instead, focus your attention on holding your team accountable through creating partnerships. A partnership with you and a partnership with each other. This requires being open and transparent about your work as well as being clear about the expectations of not only each person but the team as a whole. Establishing a partnership of accountability transfers the responsibility of the person to succeed not just for you or for the sake of their job, but for the team out of respect. By transferring this power to the whole team, everyone feels a greater sense of accountability to be transparent, ask for help and ultimately perform to their best ability. This approach goes hand in hand with creating empowered teams. Eventually, teams begin to rely on each other for solutions and create an atmosphere of true teamwork where everyone has each other's back. Everyone on the team may not be best friends, but there is an appreciation of contribution and a genuine display of respect.

This is not to say that you as a leader get out of the hot seat of holding people accountable! Your vision for the team and the success of the business is a key component of accountability for each person. The routine conversation is also key in accountability partnerships. Holding someone accountable becomes more manageable with consistent, scheduled time to discuss how a person's job is going. Think coaching conversations vs. performance reviews. With ongoing communication, you create space for tweaks along the way to ensure a person is successful rather than being surprised at the end when the conversation becomes much more difficult.

Leading By Example

We can all think back to a past leader who walked to walk and set a good example for others. Be that leader. Do what you say you're going to do. Help the team not only when things are tough but also to show appreciation for others. Offer to take over someone's duties to give them a break. Be intentional about spending time engaging in the work that your team is expected to accomplish. If you want your team to be vulnerable, own up to mistakes, and contribute to day-to-day solutions, you yourself have to be vulnerable, admit your mistakes, and coach instead of correct. Give yourself permission to try without fear of failing in front of your team. This will create a feeling is psychological safety where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.

Empowerment: Them, Not You

The definition of empowerment is authority or power given to someone to do something. That's exactly what we want to do as compassionate leaders; give others the authority to do something. For people to truly feel empowered takes creating an environment of trust where there is comfort in being vulnerable with the ability to ask questions and own up to mistakes without fear of being reprimanded. It's also about asking the right questions instead of giving the right answers. Asking the right questions requires going below the surface and transitioning to coaching questions, as opposed to questions aimed at gathering information. Coaching questions aim to get the other person to think about the situation with solutions in mind as opposed to telling you the details of the situation without intent for the next steps.


Questions that Lead to Coaching Vs. A Counseling Sessions

For questions that lead to coaching vs. a counseling session, ask if the question you're asking does the following:

  • Build understanding with the intent to uncover what is important
    • What challenges are you facing?
    • What matters to you right now?
  • Set direction to shift focus from what's wrong to what's possible
    • What is the best possible outcome?
    • What do you want to happen next?
  • Shape options to foster self-directed thinking
    • What have you tried?
    • What options do you have?
    • Define next actions for a solution-oriented focus?
    • What data or information do you need to make a decision?
    • What support do you need? Where will you get it?
    • How can I help?
    • What do you think about the acronym MORALE?
    • How can you begin to cultivate a culture of compassionate leadership for yourself and your organization? 


If you're feeling overwhelmed, a good first step is to keep learning and to create opportunities for your team to learn. Learning leads to conversation and conversation leads to a deeper understanding. The more we know, the better we become at building skills that increase the quality of life for ourselves and those we serve.  
Learn more about AGE-u-cate's microlearning courses focused on building empathy and compassion