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Powerful Are the Compassionate: How “Nice Leaders Finish First”

Recently, I was listening to an episode of TED Radio Hour on NPR titled “Just a Little Nicer.” In it, past TED speakers discuss whether compassion is a product of nature or nurture. They questioned whether society had lost the art of kindness – and, if so, how to get it back. The topic interested me because, most of the time, we are taught that to get ahead you must be tough. A stance that’s not always so compatible with being nice.

During the hour, the speakers make an interesting point: that people who are compassionate are much more likeable; and being more likeable makes others more likely to listen to them. In other words, leadership – whether that’s at the team or executive level – isn’t always about having the most knowledge and experience. You can’t share that knowledge and expertise if people don’t listen to you.

Looking for Compassion

We agree: being nice is important. It’s been our experience as executive recruiters in the life-sciences industry that nice companies and nice candidates finish first. But this isn’t a Miss Congeniality contest – compassionate leadership isn’t just about smiling and saying nice things. It means making a concerted effort to really understand the needs and desires of the people you interact with, and doing what you can to help them meet those.

But I do sometimes get the feeling that compassion is undervalued in the industry – and business world – as a whole. Some people mistakenly see it as a weakness, and others simply fail to adopt it as a leadership practice.

It’s true, being compassionate is not usually one of the first traits we mention when we describe the leaders we idolize. We talk more about brilliance, creativity, dedication to the job. However, when we really hold up a lens to the most successful companies, the most successful teams, they tend to be led by compassionate people who provide emotional support and guidance. Think about LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. Or Oprah. Or just watch this interview on compassionate leadership between Jeff Weiner and Oprah.

The Opposite of Weakness

In my estimation, a leader that is truly strong is someone who takes the time to get to know their teams and genuinely support their individual ambitions. Help them through adversity and setbacks, as well. They are the leaders who see more in people than a list of skills, and really understand how to get the people they work with to give more of themselves and really shine (and help their projects and company shine).

Compassion is a trait that we recruit for when matching leaders with high-profile executive positions. Because, without multiple compassionate and supportive people in your leadership and business-development teams, growing a business is going to be really tough. For one, people will buy more goods and services, and more frequently, from people they feel warmly toward. Which is probably why we do see a shift in focus to more compassionate leadership from the most savvy businesses.

As the volatile life-sciences and pharma recruitment industry morphs and adapts to market pressures, it might just be compassion that helps you understand and adapt to those emerging new realities, and helps your company thrive in the changing world.

By Kieran Canisius, (compassionate) co-founder of Seuss Recruitment. Does your pharma, biotech or CRO company want to finish first by hiring inspirational, effective and compassionate leaders? Call Seuss Executive at +31(0) 20 29 00 016 to have an engaging talk with Kieran Canisius or Sabine Hutchison. No time? No problem: send us an email at