Over the years of working with leaders and their teams from small through to very large organizations I have distilled the key qualities of bold leadership into ‘The 7 C’s’. They are Confidence, Courage, Compassion, Commitment, Connection, Contribution and Community.

Many of the leaders with whom I have had the privilege to work want help with feeling more confident in themselves. They feel that there is something which is holding them back - that gets in their way of being courageous. The route to growing that inner confidence is I have found through compassion.  First compassion to themselves, and then towards others.

For me compassion is made up of a number of things – including Kindness, Openness and Forgiveness – be these towards oneself, or towards others.  For some time when I invited leaders to share with their teams what they really cared about I shied away from talking about my values of kindness and compassion thinking that they would perceive me as ‘soft’ or ‘not strong enough’.  It was only when I felt confident enough in myself that I had the courage to talk much more openly about why kindness matters so much to me and realized then how much people resonated with it.

Much of my work as a consultant with Steve Radcliffe Associates is about helping leaders to be at their best more of the time, more confident in themselves in who they are being rather than just focusing on what they do.  In the work I draw on the SRA approach to developing leadership, Future – Engage – Deliver.  It’s all about getting clear on who you are and what your are leading for, and then engaging others and ‘being up to something together’ and together with, and through, others delivering great results – getting important stuff done and making a difference.

I know that when I am myself and at my best I am kind, generous and open conversely when I am at my worst I can be mean, in a mean spirited way.  Finding my way back to who I am at my best is not always easy, and I have learnt along the way that part of choosing kindness is acceptance - of myself and others, of strengths and the things that I like as well as those things with which I am less comfortable.

A couple of years ago a friend knowing about my ‘7 C’s of Bold Leadership’ introduced me to KRW.  They are a company who under the leadership of Fred Kiel and Kelly Garramone have undertaken research into leadership character and have rigorous data that shows how strong leadership character achieves five times the Return on Assets (ROA).

You can imagine my delight when I discovered that one of the four Keystone Character Habits was Compassion, along with Forgiveness, Integrity and Responsibility.  KRW define Compassion as being about empathizing with and empowering others, actively caring for and committing to others development.

Each of the four Keystone Character Habits describes the behaviors that leaders respond with to others.  This too fitted with my own thinking about leadership which is that strong leadership happens inside of relationship, and that the stronger relationships we have with each other the bigger the possibilities are for delivering great results.

Inside of bigger relationships there is a stronger sense of partnership, a real desire to support and challenge each other, to truly care for each other and to commit to each other’s success. To be able to commit to each other’s success we need to understand what we care about, our values and beliefs so that we can better appreciate each other’s response to situations.  Through appreciating our differences, and the experiences that we have had that have shaped us, we are enabled to feel empathy for one another.  We feel compassion for one another.

Strong leaders and their teams have this reputation throughout their organizations, it is how they are experienced by people – it is how they are remembered, for their compassion, often described in terms of ‘they really cared about me’; ‘they were committed to my development’; ‘they understood and helped me/us’.

Close up, strong leaders and their teams are conscious of their impact, they want people to feel cared for, encouraged and empowered and it is how people feel around them.  Their intended impact is indeed the impact felt. They know that people who feel cared for, encouraged and empowered will work together better, achieve more and deliver greater ROA.

The other three Keystone Character Habits are equally important. In my experience Forgiveness is much easier where there is already Compassion. Like Compassion, Forgiveness is much more readily given and received in bigger relationships. We are more forgiving in those relationships in which we understand and care for the person. Equally we are more able to forgive ourselves when we already feel some compassion for our own personal failings, seeing them as part of who we are, accepting that sometimes we will make mistakes, sometimes we will fail, we will not always get things right or be right, we will stumble. ‘You can be right or you can be in relationship,’ a tutor said to me some years ago on an Imago Facilitator Training course, I have found it to be true!

This leads on to the Keystone Character Habit of Responsibility. Again for me underpinned by Compassion. Great leaders and their teams take responsibility for their choices. They actively seek to own their mistakes, and to learn from them. They create an environment in which others feel safe enough to be open about their mistakes, to learn from them whilst at the same time holding themselves and each other accountable.  They create true learning environments in which people know what success looks like and what is expected of them and seek to help each other in delivering great results.

Finally there is Integrity, the Keystone Character Habit that is all about integrating, of behaving in line with our values and beliefs, of being true to our best selves and helping others to be their best selves. It requires us to be conscious leaders, aware of our behaviors and their impact on others, to be curious of our reputation far and wide and to ask people around us for feedback on their experience of us. In this way we can not only keep up with ourselves, ensuring that we embody our values and beliefs but also that we are behaving in line with them – knowing that sometimes we will stumble and that we need not only self-compassion but also the compassion of others.

This poem by Mary Oliver, Wild Geese speaks to me of self-compassion.  The poet David Whyte draws on this in his audio work ‘The Poetry of Self-compassion’ a lovely reminder that we need to feel compassion and care for ourselves before we can truly care and be compassionate to others.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
Over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
Over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


  • To find out more about the work of Steve Radcliffe Associates, and their simple and effective approach to developing leaders Future-Engage-Deliver, go here.
  • To find out more about the work of KRW and their brilliant research into Strong Leadership Character and how investing in this leads to ROA, go here.


Anni Townend is a leadership consultant, coach and writer. She lives in the UK. Contact: anni@annitownend.com

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