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Leader behaviour in the face of suffering: exploring the impact of compassion and non-compassion through narrative inquiry
Anderson, Maria Filomena
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This qualitative study seeks to explore the impact of compassionate and non-compassionate leader behaviour in response to suffering in medium to large organizations in Canada and the US using narrative inquiry. Compassion is not a topic that is typically discussed or researched within the context of private, or publicly traded, for-profit, organizations, which tend to focus on maximizing the bottom line and quantifying as much as possible for efficiency. The research questions of this study are as follows: What are recipient stories of perceived compassionate and non-compassionate behaviour by leaders in corporate workplace settings, and how do recipients make meaning of perceived compassionate and non-compassionate leader behaviour in response to their suffering? Twelve participants shared two stories each - one of compassionate leader behaviour and one of non-compassionate leader behaviour - for a total of 24 narratives. A focus group was also conducted virtually with participants to share preliminary findings. The key findings of compassionate leader behaviour narratives included positive perception of self and work, loyalty towards leader, and examples of the generative nature of compassion in the workplace. In contrast, the key findings of non-compassionate leader behaviour included prolonged suffering, feeling raw and visceral emotions, impact on mental and physical health, disillusionment with leader and organization, and work-home boundary infringement. Two key findings identified across both categories included the presence of reflection and reframing of experiences, and growth as a leader from compassionate and non-compassionate leader behaviour. Recommendations for future research and organizational practice are discussed.