Close this search box.
Close this search box.

LinkedIn’s CEO Explains Why Feeling your Employees’ Pain Isn’t Going Far Enough

Twelve years in the making, Jeff Weiner shares his views on compassionate management.

GettyImages-494181905-compressorIt’s a mistake that too many executives make early in their careers, according to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. They confuse empathy with compassion. And failing to make the discrepancy can inadvertently fuel destructive conflict and perhaps even prevent people from reaching their full potential.

Inspired by the Dalai Lama, Weiner claims to have practiced “compassionate management” for at least 12 years, but admits he still hasn’t quite perfected the art.

Of course, managing compassionately involves putting yourself in another person’s shoes and attempting to the see the world from their perspective. But, according to the head of the professional social network, that could be harmful if you’re only prepared to suffer alongside them.

“Compassion is maintaining enough distance where you can actually do something about the way the other person feels.

“Compassion is maintaining enough distance where you can actually do something about the way the other person feels,” he recently told students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Consider this example given by the Dalai Lama: if you come across a person being crushed by a boulder on their chest, the empathetic response would be to suffocate, too. The compassionate response would involve reflecting on their suffering, but only as a temporary step toward doing whatever possible to get that boulder off their chest.

Applied to the world of business, Weiner said this could mean not empathizing with another person’s anger with an angry response. Instead, he recommends taking a step back and trying to understand the source of their irritation. Perhaps a topic’s been raised that’s reminded them of past trauma. Or they’ve become more defensive because they’re not familiar with a certain topic and fear looking stupid. Or maybe they’ve just had a bad day.

Another part of managing compassionately, he said, is realizing you can’t constantly hold staff to your own personal capabilities. “More often than not, especially younger, less-experienced executives—like I was 10 or 12 years ago—we have a tendency to expect everyone around us to do things the way we do them.”

Alternatively, he said it makes more sense to understand other people’s unique strengths—and perhaps even change their role so that it’s better aligned to those strengths. “When you do that, you unlock value that’s not possible when you’re only looking at the world through your own lens.”

Other executives struggling to be so patient need not despair: Weiner said it’s human nature to be egocentric and that he still finds compassionate management “really, really hard to do”.

“So for anyone out there [who] decides they want to practice more compassionate work, recognize you’re not always going to be able to do it and that’s OK,” he said. “The aspirational component is really important.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.