Free Shipping on orders $35+ within the continental US

Why Strength Through Compassion Remains a Top Leadership Skill

Executive Summary

As President and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial saw the change that strength through compassion can bring at a young age, thanks to one man's courage to go against the flow.

  • Showing compassion is a crucial leadership skill because it garners trust, revealing to those under you that you care for them as individuals, not just the work they can produce for you.
  • Instead of responding out of anger when you face opposition, take a moment to understand the opposition’s point of view, and then look for a solution that could act as a bridge between you both.
  • Your decisions as a leader have far-reaching outcomes that will ultimately affect more than just you. No matter how hard it may be, doing the right thing is always the best thing for you and those under you.

While integrating a Christian Brothers School in New Orleans’ City Park and then later attending Jesuit High School, I witnessed a powerful combination of strength through compassion through the leadership of Father Harry Tompson.

At Jesuit, there were fourteen black students out of roughly one thousand. One year, we were moved to create a Black History Week display to share with our fellow classmates and teachers the pride we had in our culture. I approached Father Tompson with the idea. To his credit, he was very open and supportive of our idea and suggested we see the librarian for assistance.

With the librarian’s help, we created a really impressive display featuring books, photographs, and quotes that celebrated black people’s sojourn in America, including Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s From Chaos to Community.

Despite the kudos and positive comments we received from some, however, there were those who were not only unimpressed but angered that black students would dare create such a display. The result: our work was defaced with the letters KKK painted over it and KKK literature pasted on top. And, of course, I was called to the principal, Father Tompson’s office, along with two other students.

Hear more leadership lessons from Marc Morial

The reason was not to hold us accountable for the vandalism, but rather to direct my advisor and principal on how to move forward. He shared the criticism he’d received from students and some parents for allowing Black History Week to exist. “They’re asking the question ‘Why do blacks need their own special week?’ What should I tell them?” he asked us.

As was my habit, I responded on behalf of all three of us. “Tell them to organize an Italian History Week and an Irish History Week,” I said. “They don’t know their own history, and that’s why they’re mad.”


As a teenager, I was looking for ways to build a coalition, responding out of compassion rather than anger. I looked at things from their perspective and realized ignorance was the real culprit.

But my response was also a show of strength—not backing down from our right to celebrate our story and our culture, while offering a solution, an action to address the issue.

I certainly had powerful examples in this regard, including Father Tompson, who became a mentor and close family friend. In response to this racial “controversy,” Father Tompson did not lord his position over us but rather compassionately invited us in to discuss ways to confront the situation and move forward.

Father Tompson’s living example of strength and compassion made us feel welcome. It made all the difference in the world. We knew he was genuine and that he cared about our well-being. That’s what showing compassion can do—it gets people to buy into you as a human being and welcomes you inside their walls of doubt or suspicion.

As a leader, compassion moves your team to trust that you have their well-being in mind and that you are willing to see them as human beings—not just cogs in an organization’s machine.


Father Tompson also displayed strength. In those challenging years, he gave the black students room to express our ideas and concerns while dealing with the complaints of those who were much less comfortable with our presence at Jesuit.

But Father Tompson went a step further. Under his leadership, the school hired its first wave of black instructors. He also allowed us black students to actively recruit more black students, a move that effectively tripled the number of black students at Jesuit. And his strength through compassion didn’t stop there. Father Tompson later founded the Good Shepherd School, an academy that primarily served black students. Additionally, he opened a business, Café Reconcile, that gave formerly incarcerated individuals the opportunity for gainful employment. Both institutions he founded still operate and still keep Father Tompson’s legacy of strength through compassion alive decades after his passing.

That’s what leaders who pair strength with their compassion do—they act with strength and courage to make sure their people have the opportunity to experience positive, winning, and profitable personal and collective outcomes.


Showing strength through compassion is not always the most popular leadership skill to demonstrate. A leader should be guided by their values and sense of morality.

How do you do that?

  • Define Your Right Thing: Your right thing should be determined by universally accepted social morals and values.
  • Do the Right Thing: Inevitably, there will be challenges you face as a leader that test your character and sense of morality. Do the right thing, even if it’s not popular and even if you’ll get no credit for it.
  • Know the Effect of Your Affect: As a leader, you must always remember your decisions are not just about you. They impact those you lead.

Marc Morial

Marc Morial is a former second-generation New Orleans mayor who oversaw many improvements during his terms, including crime reduction, police reform, and the passing of a significant bond issue.

In May 2003, Morial was appointed President and CEO of the National Urban League. Since that appointment, Morial’s Empowerment Agenda has worked to reenergize the League’s diverse constituencies; to build on the strength of its nearly one-hundred-year-old legacy; and to increase its profile both locally and nationally.


Want to read more? Get the book!

Sold out

Related Posts

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published