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A Compassionate Society Requires Authentic Leadership

The global COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on leaders in government, society and business. At times like these, the news can be overwhelming and convince us that there is little good left in the world. But if we take it upon ourselves to show compassion, even in small ways, we can make a significant impact on the lives of others.

Compassion requires us to allow ourselves to be moved by the circumstances of others around us and experience the motivation to help alleviate their suffering. Compassion requires acts of helpfulness and it is driven by patience, wisdom, kindness and warmth.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

Across the world, the coronavirus outbreak took thousands of lives and affected millions of people. It has also shined a spotlight on the best and worst of humanity.

In South Africa, COVID-19 saw organisations come together to alleviate human suffering in way we have not experienced for decades. Across the country, people came together to start soup kitchens and distribute food parcels and essential items to the most vulnerable communities.

At the same time, The World Health Organisation says there has been an increase in cases of gender-based violence (GBV) across the world as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic continues. In South Africa, the exponential increase in reports of GBV have shown, once again, that our society needs radical transformation when it comes to the violence and abuse perpetrated against women and girls.

South Africa‘s pandemic corruption scandal continues to grow too, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered investigations into allegations of corruption around the government’s spending towards the fight against the coronavirus, including charges of impropriety in giving tenders.

It is clear that as we look to 2021, we need to rebuild relationships based on compassion, integrity, consistency, transparency, honesty and reliability.

In his book Lead from the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21St Century, Mark C Crowley, the pioneer of heart-led leadership, outlined a new paradigm in human development, and societal and workplace leadership tied to the understanding that people aren’t really creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. He says that what people really need in order to be engaged is for their emotional needs to be met.

Leading with heart requires leaders to grow people, to make them feel they matter, to make them know they are appreciated and respected, and to give them opportunities to contribute to something meaningful. Leading with heart, Crowley adds, is what drives engagement.

For South Africans, this must apply at home and at work. We need to demonstrate care for helpers, nurses, bus drivers, grandparents, the elderly, and the colleagues we work with every day.  Many people donate time and money, without noticing that – right on their doorstep – people close to them are struggling. Pause, walk in another person’s shoes, look deeper and feel deeper, and respond with compassion and action.

This is the time for every one of us to play our part as a true citizen.

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