Manley Hopkinson, founder of renowned leadership consultancy The Compassionate Leadership Academy, author of Compassionate Leadership and a sought-after keynote speaker shares his thoughts on the differences between a good leader, and a great one.

So how do we spot the differences between a good leader and a great leader?

A Good leader gets stuff done for sure, though they do seem to be quite busy in the process. A bit of rushing about, plenty of emails, here and there, checking up on the team. A real hive of activity. This leader never seems to stop and with their latest smartphone, they don’t have to! 

A safe pair of hands that can be trusted to do what has to be done. Sometimes, they do seem to be a bit reactive, changing their team’s priorities at the drop of a hat, or, to be more precise, at the opening of an email from the big boss or the customer. But they appear to be on top of everything, especially their team.

So, what does a great leader look like?

Well, it all seems a little calmer. 

The teams are busy, head down and looking pretty productive. Oh, here comes the boss; all smiles and handshakes and time for a coffee and a chat it seems. A pat on the back and a thumbs up from across the room. There’s the big plan on the wall with a few targets and a, wow, pretty inspiring explanation of why the work is so important. A quiet chat with that team and a pretty deep 1-2-1 with that person, and now the boss is taking orders for a pizza after work – nice.

What we see is that a good leader gets stuff done, but a great leader gets stuff done for them. The people seem to be committed and get on with it. A great leader is in control without being controlling. There is greater humanity and calmness in the way they do things.

The one key difference is that they are leading with compassion; they are a compassionate leader.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes compassion as “understanding with positive action” and we extend that to define compassionate leadership as “secure the best for all”. 

And that’s the key; if a leader is securing the best for someone then they gain their commitment, and if you have that then it brings engagement, collaboration, ownership; accountability, resilience, well-being, happiness and performance. That’s the key – you gain commitment through compassion.

A good leader is focused on the task. Good on them as there is much to do. They are putting actions into plans, but then they struggle to let go. They stay on task and if the task slips then they tend to be even more task-focused. And if a mistake happens then they could easily just dive in and take over. Busy and likely to get busier.

But the great leader is focusing on the people. Yes, they have set the vision and worked with the team on putting plans to that, but then their focus shifts to enabling and motivating the teams to excel. They let go and trust the team. They stay in the wings to guide and encourage and ensure that the team are living true to purpose. They focus on creating a legacy through individual and collective growth. If a mistake is made then they focus on the learning opportunity that it brings.

Good or great? Busy or smart? Control through omnipresence or control through trust? Compliance or commitment?

The choice is yours, but I know which one I prefer. 

Compassion is the key that unlocks commitment.