Developing Compassionate Academic Leadership: The Practice of Kindness


  • Kathryn Waddington University of Westminster



Values, culture, kindness, compassion, leadership


This opinion piece paper argues that there is now a compelling need for compassionate academic leadership in our universities in both a national and international context. The premise of the paper is that universities are, or ought to be, ‘caregiving organisations’, because of their role and primary task of helping students to learn. However, the relentless neoliberal instrumentalisation and marketisation of higher education has eroded that premise. Yet universities still have a duty of care; a moral and legal obligation to ensure that everyone associated with the institution, whether this be students, employees or the general public, are fully protected from any personal physical and/or emotional harm. Care, kindness and compassion are not separate from being professional; rather, they represent the fundamentals of humanity in the workplace. Compassion is now a crucial and core concern in tertiary education. Arguably, in the future, universities that can demonstrate their compassionate credentials and pedagogy will be the successful universities, and this requires kindness in leadership and compassionate institutional cultures. Therefore, I argue that in order to nurture cultures of compassion, universities require their leaders – as the carriers of culture – to embody compassion in their leadership practice. However, this needs to be a shared approach, rather than a dominant, hierarchical top-down approach, and is characterised by openness, curiosity, kindness, authenticity, appreciation and above all compassion. The paper draws upon contemporary thinking and research around the role of kindness in leadership and the development of compassionate organisational values and cultures


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