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2021 Leadership: Q&A with Pip Gwynn

Pip Gwynn, Director, Insight HRC
February 15, 2021

Pip Gwynn, Behavioural Psychologist & Director at Insight HRC, answers some questions about leadership, as we enter 2021 in the midst of a global pandemic.

Q: During the pandemic we’ve seen organisations become more people centric. Why do you think compassionate leadership works in a crisis? What evidence supports this?

During times of crisis, we look to leaders to provide certainty and to make us feel safe and secure. The pandemic is so different from anything we’ve experienced that it’s impossible for anyone to have all the answers. It’s been a time of worry and concern for us all and the boundaries between work and personal life have dissolved. This combination makes compassionate leadership a useful approach at this time– it encourages leaders to really think about how they can support the needs of others which encourages the development of strategies that enable people to be more productive and to support wellbeing. Evidence from neuroscience and psychology indicates that we make better decisions and are more creative when we feel psychologically safe and well. A compassionate leadership style fosters the environment to handle a crisis effectively.

Q: What is the difference with compassionate leadership and Inclusive leadership? 

The two terms are often used interchangeably, and both focus on a leadership style where leaders are strongly aware of the way they think, make decisions and interpret the world around them. Both styles emphasise the importance of genuinely seeking to understand those around them – the people they lead, customers and other stakeholders. Compassionate leadership approaches have emerged from the mindfulness field whereas inclusive leadership puts a greater evidence on understanding your own cognitive biases and the ability to bring people together whilst valuing their uniqueness. Both approaches are about valuing people which is crucial in 21st century leadership.

Q: During your presentation at the compassionate leadership event you talked quite a lot about neuroscience and psychological safety. How does this come into play in the workplace? 

Building a psychologically safe environment is key to an engaged and effective workplace. When people feel safe, they will share what really concerns them. This helps to support their wellbeing and to make improvements to their role.  It also means that information is effectively shared between teams because people don’t feel defensive, ideas to improve frontline services to customers are shared and trust in leadership improved.  

Developing psychological safety is even more challenging in a remote environment where it’s harder to read the non-verbal signals people are giving. So it’s vital that leaders make a conscious effort to demonstrate that they can be trusted.


Q: For leaders who want to develop amore compassionate approach and self-awareness, what advice can you offer? Can you suggest any tools or resources? 

As I mentioned in the session, a great place to start to be a more compassionate leader, is to practice self-compassion and self-acceptance. For most of us, being compassionate towards others takes energy and focus. Looking after our own wellbeing by trying to get enough sleep, eating well, staying hydrated, taking breaks from the screen and our phones and getting some exercise will all help. Making small, achievable changes are easier and increase our chances of success.  

Self-acceptance is about a conscious awareness of our own critical thoughts – the guilt, the endless to-do list, the times we weren’t good enough. And that includes not judging ourselves when the critical thoughts creep back in. I once heard Ruby Wax describe mindfulness as the practice of focusing the mind, noticing we were thinking about our shopping list and bringing our minds back to focus without judgement. I would recommend Ruby Wax’s books on mindfulness and neuroscience for anyone who wants to understand more about the science behind why this approach works. At Insight we have developed a suite of videos to support people to look after themselves at this time.  Please get in touch if you would like a trial.


Q: The landscape of HR has evolved dramatically during the pandemic and we’re now in ‘the new normal’. Thinking ahead to when businesses can eventually resume face to face operations and the possible re-integration challenges. Can you share some insights on what HR managers can focus on now to support their organisations to thrive post pandemic? 

There are two areas that are really standing out for me at the moment.

The first is the importance of having a clear purpose – both as an organisation but also at an individual level.  The experience of the pandemic has been huge and we will feel its effects for years to come. I think as we start to move to the “next normal”, people will need to process what’s happened and may well question their priorities.  For organisations to support, and retain, their best team members, they will need to have a clear and motivational purpose that people connect with – why do you do what you do and why is it important?

Second is the importance of managers. Line managers have always had the most impact on the engagement and performance of their team members.  In a remote or hybrid working environment, your immediate line manager will be even more important. As organisations become more dispersed, rather than being located in one site, line managers will be the keepers of organisational culture and interpreters of policies. Investing in new skills and mindsets for managers will be crucial so that they, and their teams, can flourish in the new world.


Insight HRC is business psychology and leadership consultancy providing people services to leading organisations for over 25 years.


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