Compassionate Leadership: Essential for the Future of Tropical Medicine and Global Health

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  • 1 Center for Compassionate Leadership, Montauk, New York;
  • | 2 Bridges to Development, Seattle, Washington;
  • | 3 Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics, Task Force for Global Health, Decatur, Georgia

Compassion—the awareness of suffering coupled with the desire to relieve that suffering—is an evolved human capacity that offers significant benefits for individuals and organizations. While the relief of suffering is central to tropical medicine and global health, compassion is more often assumed than explicit. Global health leaders participating in a compassionate leadership program recently reported that the most common personal barriers to compassionate leadership include inability to regulate workload, perfectionism, and lack of self-compassion; while the most common external challenges include excessive work-related demands, the legacy of colonialism, and the lack of knowledge on how to lead with compassion. These barriers can be surmounted. Within organizations, leaders are the primary shapers of compassionate cultures. Now is the time to bring our core compassionate values to bear in addressing the “unfinished business” of ensuring global health equity and deconstructing colonialist structures in global health and tropical medicine. Compassionate leadership offers us tools to complete this unfinished business.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Evan Harrel, Center for Compassionate Leadership, P.O. Box 701, Montauk, NY 11954. E-mail:

Authors’ addresses:Evan Harrel and Laura Berland, Center for Compassionate Leadership, Montauk, NY, E-mails: and Julie Jacobson, Bridges to Development, Seattle, WA, E-mail: David Addiss, Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics, Task Force for Global Health, Decatur, GA, E-mail: