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Teach: Compassion Tools

The tools on this page can be adapted to teach compassion, benevolence, caring, empathy, humanity, or love.
• If you would like to request those tools which were created by the Project on Positive Leadership, please click here.
• Please tell our community about how you use these tools and ask people for advice about how they use the tools on our LinkedIn groups page.
• If you have tools that you like to use when teaching compassion, and you are willing to share them with us, please let us know by sending a message to ppl@louisville.edu.


Maintenance Worker, Cemetery Division

Free tool available upon request from the Project on Positive Leadership.

  • Authors: Daniel Hodges and Ryan Quinn
  • Date: 2020
  • Pages: 5
  • Summary: This case details Daniel’s experience as a maintenance worker in a cemetery for a summer job. To his surprise, what he thought was a manual labor job involved many interactions that required compassion. Also, he found it harder to exhibit such compassion as the summer went on. This case provides details about Daniel’s experiences. It allows readers to examine and discuss why compassion became so difficult, when and why they might have similar experiences, and what they can do about it. The case is useful for teaching positive leadership because it helps people to explore the questions such as (a) why we do not feel compassion in circumstances in which it would seem natural to feel compassion, and what we can do in such situations; and (b) given that positive leadership begins when people exhibit virtue with an excellence that exceeds what a person would have exhibited if he or she had been conforming to convention, what should people do if they cannot even exhibit the virtue at a conventional level. This tool works well when students are assigned to read it along with “Leading with Compassion.”

Leading with Compassion

Free tool available upon request from the Project on Positive Leadership.

  • Authors: Daniel Hodges and Ryan Quinn
  • Date: 2020
  • Pages: 8
  • Summary: This technical note reviews research and applications on the topic of compassion in the workplace. It works well when used with cases or activities on leading with compassion, such as PPL-2020-102, “Maintenance Worker, Cemetery Division.”

Leadership and Self Deception

  • Book
    • Price: $8.99
    • By the Arbinger Institute
    • Date of Publication: 2015
  • Summary: Most people like the accessibility of this book because it is written as if it were a novel, although a small minority of people find that approach to be hokey. The content, however, is excellent, and works well when compared with cases in which protagonists are struggling with empathy.

Good Boundaries Free You

  • TEDx Talk
    • Price: Free
    • By Sarri Gilman
    • Date of Publication: 2015
  • Summary: Consider including with this video an exercise in which students identify three personal experiences: one in which they exhibited too much compassion, one in which they exhibited too little compassion, and one in which they came very close to the ideal level of compassion. Then, for each example, have them identify what boundaries were or were not present, how the presence or absence of those boundaries helped them or prevented them from exhibiting ideal compassion, and how they might manage their boundaries differently in future circumstances. This reflection exercise could be done during class or before class. Then students could be put in groups to discuss their answers, give each other feedback, and make plans.

The Edge of Compassion

  • TEDx Talk
    • Price: Free
    • By Francoise Mathieu
    • Date of Publication: 2018
  • Summary: This video can be useful in pairing with small scenarios of people exhibiting compassion to help students in assessing what is too much, too little, and just right when it comes to compassion.

Confronting a Necessary Evil: The Firing of Alex Robins (A)

  • Role Play
    • Price: $4.25
    • By Joshua Margolis
    • Harvard Business School
    • Date of Publication: 2005
  • Summary: This case focuses on the concept of necessary evils, but it would not be hard to adapt this role play to focus on compassion. In fact, because it focuses on necessary evils, it is easy to use this role play for a discussion of compassion that focuses on the golden mean of compassion, and also on how other virtues can help a person achieve the golden mean. The role play can be conducted without variation, but then focus on the language of compassion and virtues in the debrief.

Scaling Compassion: The Story of Google Employee #107

  • Case Study
    • $4.25
    • By Chade-Meng Tan and Karen Christensen
    • Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
    • Date of Publication: 2016
  • Summary: This is a good tool for teaching the basics of compassion: what it means to be compassionate and how to become more compassionate. In a course on positive leadership, instructors can build on this case by adding in questions about what compassion looks like when it is exceptional, how to practice compassion in a way that incorporates the perspectives of others and inspires them because of that incorporation, and what other virtues are also relevant.

Amazon as an Employer

  • Case study
    • Price: $4.25
    • By Jyotsna Bhatnagar and Shweta Jaiswal
    • Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario
    • Date of Publication: 2016
  • Summary: This tool appears to be designed to spur discussion about compassion from people in executive leadership positions toward lower-level employees. One question that might also be useful to surface with students is the question about how employees within the organization treat peers, and what they could do about that if they were employees. What could leadership look like from within the company? What other virtues would they also need to exhibit in order to show such leadership? What pressures would they encounter? Could they do anything about those pressures when they exhibit leadership?

Flint Water Crisis

  • Case study
    • Price: $4.25
    • By Marie McKendall and Nancy Levenburg
    • NARCA – North American Case Research Association
    • Date of Publication: 2018
  • Summary: This case is not explicitly about compassion, but it is easy to use as a case for teaching compassion because most people, when learning about this crisis, are baffled about the sheer lack of compassion government leaders showed toward citizens of Flint. This can lead to a powerful discussion about what factors tend to override people’s compassion, and what can be done about it. This case is particularly useful for examining the perspective of what it takes to exhibit more virtue than people typically exhibit when they conform to convention. Instructors can ask the students to explicitly identify the conventions that inhibited compassion, what social-structural factors reinforced those conventions, and how to exhibit leadership in light of such conventions.

Joe Fresh: Ethical Sourcing

  • Case study
    • Price: $4.25
    • By Jaana Woiceshyn, Norm Althouse, and Nigel Goodwin
    • Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario
    • Date of Publication: 2016
  • Summary: The value of this tool for teaching compassion is that it focuses students on the complexities of compassion. If teaching positive leadership, then after unpacking why too much compassion can lead to negative consequences, it will be useful to walk students through thought experiments with other situations they may encounter, and to have them think through not only how to exhibit compassion well, but also how to think it through in advance to understand how to anticipate and mitigate negative consequences.
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