Compassion in leadership of self and others

We consider how physiotherapy professionals can demonstrate self-compassion and explore compassionate leadership

Advice Clinic Compassion in Leadership
Compassion in leadership of self and others

The past months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been stressful and challenging for everyone, but especially for those working in healthcare.

Clinicians started out full of adrenaline, however, as the time has passed, exhaustion has set in and, with no clear end in sight, many are struggling to maintain an optimistic outlook. Now more than ever we need to display compassion towards ourselves and others. 

Compassionate leadership is a fundamental enabling factor to create a culture of improvement and innovation in healthcare1

That leadership can be displayed at all roles and grades.

Compassionate leadership helps to promote a culture of learning, where risk-taking (within safe boundaries) is encouraged and where there is an acceptance that not all innovation will be successful.

Compassion also creates psychological safety, such that staff feel confident in speaking out about errors, problems and uncertainties and feel empowered and supported to develop and implement ideas to improve delivering of services. 

According to The Kings Fund, compassion has four components:

  1. attending – recognition and awareness of concern and distress
  2. understanding – perceiving the root cause of the concern 
  3. empathising – identifying with and relating to the situation
  4. helping – taking intelligent (thoughtful and appropriate) action to help alleviate distress. 

We are often compassionate towards others, but do we treat ourselves in the same way? 

At times of high stress, how do you self-reflect, and look upon yourself? Is it with compassion? If not, why not?

Practical tips 

The practicalities required to create a compassionate workplace may be different in each setting, and of course, there are additional restrictions associated with Covid.

However some things to consider might include:

  • flexible working patterns or breaks – this may not work for every team but without regular breaks we risk mistakes and may increase sickness rates. Ensuring that staff are able to take breaks is vital, even if it’s just getting away from computers or the office.
  • walking meetings or even outdoor gatherings – not all meetings need to take place in one room or online. If you can, try a walking meeting to get away from the workspace and – even better – get outside to make the most of the natural light. We are also aware that many therapists have the opposite problem and spend all day on their feet, so would welcome a sit down meeting.
  • make time for in-service training, team meetings and appraisals  – more than ever these are vital for ensuring staff feel listened too.
  • celebrate birthdays and successes – this might sound minor but a recent experience in the NHS during lockdown reminded us how important these things are. At a time when staff were highly stressed and exhausted they still made time to sing happy birthday and enjoy cake. It enabled everyone to stop for a moment and appreciate other important things in life.
  • safe space – Look into a safe space for team members to have some time to themselves away from the clinical area. Some areas have developed ‘wobble rooms’ where staff can take a break in a comfortable and quiet area.

Examples in practice

We are aware that all departments are under pressure and it is not always easy to put these tips into practice, especially in these current times. We thought we would share with you some innovative ideas from other teams.

Sussex community healthcare shared examples of buying new chairs, yoga mats and e-bikes for staff.

Royal Stoke Hospital have developed some onsite walking routes 'Walking Routes' to encourage daily physical activity during break time.


We know that these are stressful times. It is often difficult to prioritise compassion when people are under pressure. However, at its core, shared compassion helps ensure that we can all remain motivated, healthy and able to perform at our best in this uncertain environment. Compassionate leadership is vital for allowing this to happen. 


1 The Kings Fund Caring to change

Useful links

The CSP’s Professional Advice Service gives advice and support to members on complex and specialist enquiries about physiotherapy practice, including professional practice issues, standards, values and behaviours, international working, service design and commissioning, and policy in practice. 

  • Jane Mitchell and Alex Nambyiah are CSP professional advisers 

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