Being resilient to, and having the skills to cope with, crises – whether on a personal or global scale like we are currently seeing – are the hallmarks of being a powerful self leader. The sheer volume of suffering that our current global crisis has been shining a light on, means that no one has been left untouched; between mortality rate updates, concerns for your co-workers’ living circumstances, hearing the stress of people trying to adapt to new roles, exposure to economic worries and the simple difficulties of people unable to see their loved ones, you too have possibly been feeling overwhelmed. The keys to successfully navigating crisis as a self leader, as explored in more detail below, are compassion and action.


Let’s imagine you witness someone going through a difficult situation. There are two ways that you might approach it.

  1. You imagine what their suffering might be like, you feel it with them, you feel burdened, distressed and helpless. Maybe you carry that burden or maybe you walk away to avoid further negative emotions in yourself.
  2. You imagine what their suffering may be like, but you separate it from your own emotions. You feel motivated to do something to help their situation and you focus your attention on positive action.

If you approach this crisis situation as posited in scenario one, you are more likely to experience what is commonly referred to as ‘compassion fatigue’ – although Klimecki & Singer (2011) suggest that it would be more accurately described as ‘empathic distress fatigue’ because prolonged empathising, without positive action emphasises negative feelings and triggers damaging symptoms over long periods – and this makes you far less effective as a self leader.

Scenario two demonstrates the power of approaching the situation with compassion. Compassion is defined as “the emotion one experiences when feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.” Baumeister & Vohs (2007). Compassion is both a feeling and a desire to take action, which often results in people helping others (known as prosocial behaviour in the world of psychology). Psychologists have found that people who are able to be compassionate don’t suffer the symptoms of empathic distress fatigue; genuine compassion protects you from burnout.


1. Swap your empathy for compassion

When you notice that you are feeling with the other, see if you can feel for them instead. Keep your concern; but remember it is their experience, not yours. Find a way to be helpful in whatever small way you can to boost their mood and your own in the process.

2. Reframe the situation

Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on the good you are doing to lift your mood. E.g. a nurse may remind herself that even though she can’t make everything better, the patient is better off with her there. 

3. Process your feelings

Using a journal or meditation practice can be a good way to notice how you are feeling and keep on top of any challenges. Sometimes, just being in touch with how you feel can be a way of letting things go or making them seem more manageable.

4. Have a support network

Having positive relationships in your life helps to make sure that you don’t lose your empathy altogether and balances out some of the challenges you might be seeing. In some settings there are support networks and counselling services specific to jobs who may be likely to suffer burnout.

5. Have a recharging routine

Make time each week, or even each day to do something that helps you to rest and recharge. It may be a good night’s sleep, a walk, a long bath, reading, spending time with a friend. Know what works for you and build it into your routine.

Building these positive habits in to your life, whether you are going through challenging times or not, is a great way to make sure you fulfil your true potential as a powerful self leader.

If you want to dedicate time to building positive wellbeing habits into your life, The Self Leadership Initiative provides bespoke training and workshops to Charities, Universities and Corporates to make that happen. Get in touch today to discover the full power of being a self leader.



Baumeister, R. F. & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Encyclopedia of social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pulications

Klimecki, O. & Singer, T. (2011). Empathic Distress Fatigue Rather Than Compassion Fatigue? Integrating Findings from Empathy Research in Psychology and Social Neuroscience. Pathological Altruism, pp.369-383