Year of Leadership: Compassionate leaders must always be on call

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jordon Cochran
  • 341st Communications Squadron commander
"Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging. "
-- Deepak Chopra

Compassion and leadership are sometimes words disconnected from each other. The perception of a powerful leader is one who is strong, tough and untiring ... but the reality of a powerful leader is of one who has compassion along with their many other traits. Compassion opens a leader up to new opportunities. 

As military leaders, we are continuously serving and helping others, whether it is protecting the simple freedoms that we all enjoy or helping hurricane evacuees, earthquake survivors, Tsunami or flood victims, and even our own wounded soldiers back at home. Compassionate leaders must be at the front of the line, always on call. 

Sometimes, this unending responsibility wears on us, but our dedication is paramount. This commitment must carry over to our personal lives where we may be weary, but still have vital responsibilities to tend to at home: bills, kid's homework, spouse assistance, etc. Juggling a leader's compassion at work and home can prove to be challenging. 

A leadership caution is to avoid compassion fatigue or burnout. Symptoms include misplaced anger, increased irritability, substance abuse, blaming others, hopelessness, irrationally high self-expectation, low self-esteem, workaholism, diminished balance between empathy and objectivity, hypertension, physical and emotional exhaustion, frequent headaches and sleep disturbances. Those at risk of compassion fatigue include health care providers, journalists, clergy, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, and of course, all military personnel. We have a dedication to go the extra mile to make a difference in crisis or simply answer the call for help. 

Leaders are remarkable in their desire to help others. Without compensation or reward, we are propelled into the heat of the moment without thought or regard to our own safety or sacrifices. We are energized and forever connected to someone who was previously a stranger. We generally dislike feeling helpless. Doing something rather than nothing usually makes you feel better. You have a sense of control over your situation and outlook, even if it is only isolated or limited control. 

Over the course of your daily routine, make a point to be compassionate leaders and continue to serve others. As people learn to sing by singing and dance by dancing, we can only learn compassion by being compassionate. 

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. said it poignantly, "Giving is the secret of a healthy life. Not necessarily money, but whatever a person has of encouragement, sympathy and understanding."