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  • Writer's pictureShawna Bruce

Leading Your Crisis with Compassion

Last week I posted on LinkedIn about the 5 C's of Crisis Communication: Compassion, Clarity, Consistency, Commitment and Calm. In a series of blog posts, I am drilling down into the five components and how we can apply them to our crisis communications approaches, starting with compassion.

For more than 30 years, Michael West's research has focused on organizational culture and effectiveness, particularly in health services. This article "How to lead with compassion in times of crisis" shares his advice on compassionate leadership models and "how they can help organizations overcome some of the hurdles they’re facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic." Responding to crises can be overwhelming when you begin considering the impacts that the crisis event has put on your organization. This can include reputational damage, fatalities, and legal implications to falling stock prices. But when preparing to respond, remember that putting people first and leading with compassion and empathy - will always be the right decision.

Your people, your community, those impacted by your crisis, the families of those impacted - all of them need to be made a priority in your response.

The advice by West can be used for any number of crises and be directed at those impacted by the event, but this article specifically highlights health staff during the COVID-19 health pandemic. You can demonstrate compassion by exhibiting the following behaviours:


1. Listening/attending: Leaders who are present with their staff attend to them and listen with fascination.

2. Understanding: Leaders who seek to understand the challenges their staff face — not by imposing their own understanding, but through dialogue.

3. Empathizing: Leaders who have empathy for the difficulties staff are experiencing.

4. Helping: Leaders who help staff do their jobs effectively by removing obstacles or acquiring resources for them. (West, 2020)

Brené Brown has taught us that "to be truly great leaders, we need to support our teams’ efforts to do their best work. If they feel that they’re being judged negatively when they ask for the support they need to succeed, we’re just passing the cycle of shame down to them." Her groundbreaking TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”, found here on YouTube focuses on how leaders can show courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy to build more connected and effective teams.

We have witnessed some compassionate leaders throughout COVID-19 and others who have failed miserably. Successful leaders have taken the advice of Michael West and Brené Brown to create their own leadership style by active listening, showing empathy, and making decisions to support their staff and communities. These leaders have put people first.

For more information on Risk and Crisis Communications, Emergency Public Information, Public Engagement and Media Training visit our website or connect with us at:

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