Compassionate leadership

Someone who really intrigues me is Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp (my husband is a committed Liverpool fan so I’ve learnt about him via osmosis).

Apologies to all non-Liverpool fans, or those who don’t like football, but there really is something quite special about his leadership skills, and it’s not just the impressive outcomes he’s guided the club to.

People first, footballers second

In 2019, the FA re-arranged an FA cup match with Shrewsbury Town. It was re-scheduled to the Winter break. Liverpool requested it be moved, but the FA refused. Klopp refused to send his first team players. He sent a junior squad stating: “We have respect for players welfare. They need a rest. They need a mental rest, a physical rest and that’s what the winter break is all about”

And this type of behaviour, protecting and caring for his team, wasn’t limited to this single occasion. Klopp has a pattern of behaviour in his management style. He ends match-day warm-ups early because his Muslim players need to wash their bodies often in specific situations in keeping with Islamic custom (The Guardian). He also adjusted training session times during Ramadan (The Athletic).

As a compassionate leader, Klopp takes the time to understand his players. He has empathy for their needs and experiences, and he is prepared to act to help them – even if that means jeopardising the club’s place in the FA Cup. A former Klopp player, Robert Lewandowski, sums it up well: “Jurgen never forgets that we are people first and footballers second.”

And Klopp’s leaderships style doesn’t stop with his players. He demonstrates it in the way he engages with fans of the sport too. When a child wrote to him stating he was worried about starting secondary school, Klopp sent an emotional letter back saying “Can I tell you a secret. I get nervous… I know it might be strange…to think the Liverpool manager can feel the way you do, but I do.” ( Even when a young supporter of arch-rivals, Manchester United, wrote to him to ask him to stop winning games, Klopp’s compassionate leadership style shone through. He wrote back saying, “I cannot grant your request, not through choice anyway” and that Manchester United were lucky to have such a passionate supporter (ITV).

Leading with compassion

It is so important for leaders in every workplace (even in the sometimes machismo world of professional football) to have this compassionate mindset.

We mustn’t treat staff like resources to get a job done. If they are treated as people first, they will be motivated, loyal and engaged. What more can you ask for as a manager?

As we come out of the pandemic, compassionate leaders are realising that it has changed most people, in some way, and the key to leading now is through relationships.

McCrudden Training has several programmes aimed at improving leadership and many are based on the compassionate leadership ethos of the NHS, similar to Klopp’s ‘people first’ leadership style. These include: