Humanistic Management Journal

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 151–169 | Cite as

Exploring the Boundaries of Compassion Organizing

  • Michael Pirson
Original Research


Management theory and practice are facing unprecedented challenges posed by the amount of suffering induced and caused by the recent financial crisis, increasing social inequity, the worldwide spread of terrorism, and the consequences of climate change (Hart 2005, p. 61; Prahalad 2005; Senge 2008). Spiritual figures such as the Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI have repeatedly highlighted the central role of compassion to alleviate the pain caused by these crises. Drawing on ancient spiritual teaching about empathy and the more recent insights regarding the relevance of emotions (e.g. emotional intelligence), emotion-centric perspectives of management have been advocated more strongly in the very recent past (Brockner and Higgins Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 86(1):35-66 2001; Cooper and Sawaf 1996; Mayer et al. Annual Review of Psychology 59:507-536 2008). So far, however, compassion related concepts have played a marginal role within management research. Dutton et al.’s Administrative Science Quarterly 51(1):59-96(2006) seminal paper offers a much needed perspective as it allows to conceptualize compassion as an organizational focal point.

In this paper, I set out to examine boundaries to the general applicability of compassion organizing theory. Istart by examining the assumptions regarding the human capacity for compassion presented by Dutton et al. Administrative Science Quarterly 51(1):59-96(2006). I further develop a set of boundary conditions of individual level compassion capability, a precondition for compassion organizing. I then develop a typology of compassion capability proposing four archetypes of individual level compassion capability, and transpose the insights generated onto a typology of organizing modes. This typology allows distinguishing the various modes of compassion organizing, and helps identifying the structures and mechanisms that undermine compassion organizing. As such, Ihope to contribute to a better understanding of the potential for compassion organizing in theory and practice.


Compassion Organizing Humanistic management 


  1. Alzola, M. 2008. Character and environment: The status of virtues in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics 78 (3): 343–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Argyris, C., and D.A. Schön. 1978. Organizational learning. Reading: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co..Google Scholar
  3. Babiak, P., and R.D. Hare. 2006. Snakes in suits : when psychopaths go to work. 1st ed. New York: Regan Books.Google Scholar
  4. Bakan, J. 2004. The Corporation : The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power: Penguin Books, Canada.Google Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S. 1995. Mindblindness : an essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S., S. Wheelwright, J. Hill, Y. Raste, and I. Plumb. 2001. The 'Reading the Mind in the eyes' test revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 42: 241–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Batson, C.D. 1990. How social an animal? American Psychologist 45 (3): 336–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blair, J., D.R. Mitchell, and K. Blair. 2005. The psychopath : emotion and the brain. Malden: Blackwell Pub.Google Scholar
  9. Bloom, G. 2006. The Social Entrepreneuship Collaboratory (SE Lab): A university Incubator for a rising generation of Social Entrepreneurs. In Social Entrepreneurship -new models for sustainable social change, ed. A. Nicholls. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bornstein, D. 2007. How to change the world (Updated ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bornstein, D., and Hart House. 2005. So you want to change the world? : the emergence of social entrepreneurship and the rise of the citizen sector. Toronto: Hart House, University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  12. Brickson, S.L. 2005. Organizational identity orientation: Forging a link between organizational identity and organization's relations with stakeholders. Administrative Science Quarterly 50: 576–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brickson, S.L. 2007. Organizational Identity Orientation: The Genesis of the Role of the Firm and Distinct Forms of Social Value. Academy of Management Review 32 (3): 864–888.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brockner, J., and E.T. Higgins. 2001. Regulatory Focus Theory: Implications for the Study of Emotions at Work. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 86 (1): 35–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cleckley, H.M. 1982. The mask of sanity. Rev. ed. New York: New American Library, Mosby.Google Scholar
  16. Cooper, R.K., and A. Sawaf. 1996. Executive EQ: Emotional intelligence in leadership and organizations. New York: Grosset/Putnam.Google Scholar
  17. Cutlip, S.M. 1995. Public relations history : from the 17th to the 20th century : the antecedents. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  18. Damasio, A.R. 2005. Descartes' error : emotion, reason, and the human brain. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  19. Darley, J.M., and C.D. Batson. 1973. From Jerusalem to Jericho: A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables In Helping Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27: 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Darwin, C. 1909a. The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. 2d. ed. New York: D. Appleton and company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Darwin, C. 1909b. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: Appleton and Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davis-Blake, A., and J. Pfeffer. 1986. Just a Mirage: The Search for Dispositional Effects in Organizational Research. Academy of Management Review 14: 385–400.Google Scholar
  23. Deal, T.E., and A.A. Kennedy. 1982. Corporate cultures : the rites and rituals of corporate life. Reading: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co..Google Scholar
  24. Deal, T.E., and A.A. Kennedy. 1999. The new corporate cultures : revitalizing the workplace after downsizing, mergers, and reengineering. Reading: Perseus Books.Google Scholar
  25. Diamond, J.M. 1992. The third chimpanzee : the evolution and future of the human animal. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  26. Dierksmeier, C., and M. Pirson. 2009. Oikonomia Versus Chrematistike: Learning from Aristotle About the Future Orientation of Business Management. Journal of Business Ethics 88 (3): 417–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Downs, A. 1972. Up and Down with Ecology- The Issue-Attention Cycle. The Public Interest 28: 28–50.Google Scholar
  28. Drayton, W. 2006. The citizen sector transformed. In Social Entrepreneurship- new models for sustainable social change, ed. A. Nicholls. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Dutton, J.E., M.C. Worline, P.J. Frost, and J. Lilius. 2006. Explaining compassion organizing. Administrative Science Quarterly 51 (1): 59–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dweck, C.S. 2008. Mindset : the new psychology of success (Ballantine Books trade pbk. ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  31. Ebrahim, A. 2003. NGOs and organizational change : discourse, reporting, and learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Elkington, J., and P. Hartigan. 2008. The power of unreasonable people : how social entrepreneurs create markets that change the world. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  33. Ely, R.J., and D. Meyerson. 2008. Unmasking Manly Men. Harvard Business Review 86 (7/8): 20.Google Scholar
  34. Figley, C.R. 2002. Treating compassion fatigue. New York: Brunner-Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Friedman, M. 1970. The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. The New York Times Magazine, September 13: 1970.Google Scholar
  36. Gambetta, D. 2009. Codes of the underworld : how criminals communicate. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Gawthrop, L.C. 1997. Democracy, Bureaucracy, and Hypocrisy Redux: A Search for Sympathy and Compassion. Public Administration Review 57 (3): 205–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gibelman, M., and R. Furman. 2008. Navigating human service organizations. 2nd ed. Chicago: Lyceum Books.Google Scholar
  39. Gilbert, P. 2005. Compassion : conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Gilligan, C. 1993. In a different voice : psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Goleman, D. 1995. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  42. Halbesleben, J.R.B., and M.R. Buckley. 2004. Burnout in organizational life. Journal of Management 30: 859–879.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hare, R.D. 1999. Without conscience : the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hart, S. 2005. Capitalism at the Crossroads : The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World's Most Difficult Problems. New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing.Google Scholar
  45. Health, N. C. f. N. 2010. NINDS Autism Information Page.Google Scholar
  46. Henrich, J., Boyd, R., Bowles, S., Camerer, C., Fehr, E., Gintis, H., & McElreath, R. 2001. In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies. American Economic Review, 91(2): 73–78.Google Scholar
  47. Hilgartner, S., and C.L. Bosk. 1988. The Rise and Fall of Social Problems. American Journal of Sociology 94: 53–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hoffman, M. 1981. Is Altruism Part of Human Nature. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40: 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hofstede, G.H. 1980. Culture's consequences : international differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  50. Hofstede, G.H. 2001. Culture's consequences : comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  51. Jackson, I., and J. Nelson. 2004. Profits with Principles- seven strategies for delivering value with values. New York: Currency Doubleday.Google Scholar
  52. Kahneman, D., P. Slovic, and A. Tversky. 1982. Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kanner, L. 1968. Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Acta Paedopsychiatrica 35 (4): 100–136.Google Scholar
  54. Kegan, R. 1982. The evolving self : problem and process in human development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Kimakowitz, E., Pirson, M., Spitzeck, H., & Dierksmeier, C. 2010. Humanistic Management in Action. In T. H. M. Network (Ed.), Humanistic Management in Action- London: Palgrave McMillan.Google Scholar
  56. Kinnick, K.N., D.M. Krugman, and G.T. Cameron. 1996. Compassion Fatigue: Communication and Burnout Toward Social Problems. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 73 (3): 687–707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Kirsh, D. 2000. A Few Thoughts on Cognitive Overload. Intellectica 1 (30): 19–51.Google Scholar
  58. Kohlberg, L. 1984. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. San Francisco: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  59. Latane, B., and J. Rodin. 1969. A Lady in Distress: Inhibiting Effects of Friends and Strangers on Bystander Intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 37: 822–832.Google Scholar
  60. Laufer, W.S. 2003. Social accountability and corporate greenwashing. Journal of Business Ethics 43 (3): 253–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lawrence, P. 2007. Being human - a renewed darwinian theory of human behavior. Cambridge, MA.
  62. Lawrence, P. 2010. Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership: Jossey- Bass. San Francisco.Google Scholar
  63. Lawrence, P., and N. Nohria. 2002a. Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  64. Lawrence, P.R., and N. Nohria. 2002b. Driven : how human nature shapes our choices. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  65. Leavitt, H.J. 2005. Top down : why hierarchies are here to stay and how to manage them more effectively. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  66. LeDoux, J.E. 1996. The emotional brain : the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  67. Lehrer, J. 2009. How we decide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  68. MacDonald, C.C. 2008. Green, inc. : an environmental insider reveals how a good cause has gone bad. Guilford: Lyons Press.Google Scholar
  69. Margolis, J.D., and J.P. Walsh. 2003. Misery loves companies: Rethinking social initiatives by business. Administrative Science Quarterly 48 (2): 268–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Maslach, C. 1982. Burnout, the cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  71. Mayer, J.D., R.D. Roberts, and S.G. Barsade. 2008. Human abilities: Emotional intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology 59: 507–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Mayo, E. 1933. The human problems of an industrial civilization. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  73. McLean, B., and P. Elkind. 2004. The smartest guys in the room : the amazing rise and scandalous fall of Enron. New York: Portfolio.Google Scholar
  74. Milgram, S. 1974. Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  75. Moeller, S.D. 1999. Compassion fatigue : how the media sell disease, famine, war, and death. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  76. Mosley, I. 2000. Dumbing down : culture, politics, and the mass media. Thorverton: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  77. Munshi, D., and P. Kurian. 2005. Imperializing spin cycles: A postcolonial look at public relations, greenwashing, and the separation of publics. Public Relations Review 31 (4): 513–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Munson, E. 1916. The military surgeon. Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States: 38.Google Scholar
  79. Neumann, C.S., and R.D. Hare. 2008. Psychopathic traits in a large community sample: links to violence, alcohol use, and intelligence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 76 (5): 893–899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Neumayr, A. 1995. Dictators in the mirror of medicine : Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin. Bloomington: Medi-Ed Press.Google Scholar
  81. Nisbet, R.A. 2003. The present age : progress and anarchy in modern America. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  82. Parry, J., and American Bar Association. Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. 1994. Mental disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act : a practitioner's guide to employment, insurance, treatment, public access, and housing. Washington, DC: American Bar Association's Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law.Google Scholar
  83. Patrick, C.J. 2006. Handbook of psychopathy. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  84. Prahalad, C.K. 2005. The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid: eradicating poverty through profits. Wharton School Publishing.Google Scholar
  85. Rangan, V.K. 2007. Business solutions for the global poor : creating social and economic value. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  86. Rice, C. 2009. Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. Center for Disease Control.Google Scholar
  87. Richie-Melvan, S.I., and D. Vines. 2010. Angel walk : nurses at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Portland: Arnica Pub.Google Scholar
  88. Rizzolatti, G. 1998. What happened to Homo habilis? (Language and mirror neurons). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21 (4): 527–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Rizzolatti, G., L. Fogassi, and V. Gallese. 2000. Mirror neurons: Intentionality detectors? International Journal of Psychology 35 (3–4): 205–205.Google Scholar
  90. Rizzolatti, G., L. Fogassi, and V. Gallese. 2001. Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the understanding and imitation of action. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2 (9): 661–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Rokeach, M. 1979. Understanding human values : individual and societal. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  92. Sabeti, H. 2008. The For Benefit Corporation - creating a new organizational archetype. In T. F. S. Network (Ed.). Washington. D.C.: Aspen Institute.Google Scholar
  93. Senge, P.M. 2008. The necessary revolution : how individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  94. Senge, P.M. 2010. The necessary revolution : working together to create a sustainable world (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Broadway Books.Google Scholar
  95. Simons, T. 2002. Behavioral integrity: The perceived alignment between managers' words and deeds as a research focus. Organization Science 13 (1): 18–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Smith, A. 1759. The theory of moral sentiments. London: A. Millar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Smith, G.N. 2002. Radical compassion : finding Christ in the heart of the poor. Chicago: Loyola Press.Google Scholar
  98. Solman, P. 2010. Stress, Burnout Taking Toll on Many Still in U.S. Workforce. In NewsHour, ed. J. Lehrer. New York: PBS.Google Scholar
  99. Spreitzer, G.M., and S. Sonenshein. 2004. Toward the construct definition of positive deviance. American Behavioral Scientist 47 (6): 828–847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Stotland, E. 1978. Empathy, fantasy, and helping. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  101. Sutton, R.I. 2007. The no asshole rule : building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn't. 1st ed. New York: Warner Business Books.Google Scholar
  102. Sutton, R.I. 2010. The no asshole rule : building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn't (1st trade ed.). New York: Business Plus.Google Scholar
  103. Sutton, R.I., and B.M. Staw. 1995. What Theory is Not. Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (3): 337–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Thupten, J. 2005. Essence of the Heart Sutra : the Dalai Lama's heart of wisdom teachings (1st pbk. ed.). Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  105. Titmuss, C. 2001. The Buddha's book of daily meditations : a year of wisdom, compassion, and happiness. 1st ed. New York: Three Rivers Press.Google Scholar
  106. Vogel, D. 2005. The market for virtue : the potential and limits of corporate social responsibility. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  107. Waddington, P. 1996. Dying for information: an investigation of information overload in the UK and world-wide. London: Reuters Business Information.Google Scholar
  108. Weber, M., and S. Andreski. 1983. Max Weber on capitalism, bureaucracy, and religion : a selection of texts. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  109. Weber, M., P. Lassman, and R. Speirs. 1994. Weber : political writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  110. Weber, S., U. Habel, K. Amunts, and F. Schneider. 2008. Structural brain abnormalities in psychopaths-a review. Behavioral Sciences & the Law 26: 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Weber, M., H.H. Gerth, and C.W. Mills. 2009. From Max Weber : essays in sociology. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  112. Weick, K.E. 1979. The social psychology of organizing (2d ed.). Reading: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co..Google Scholar
  113. Weick, K. 1995. What theory is not, theorizing is. Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (3): 385–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  114. West, C., & Smiley, T. 2008. Hope on a tightrope : words & wisdom (1st ed.). Carlsbad: Smiley Books : Distributed by Hay House.Google Scholar
  115. Williamson, O.E. 1979. Transaction Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractual Relations. Journal of Law and Economics, October 22: 233–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  116. Wilson, J.Q. 1993. The moral sense. New York: Free Press, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, Maxwell Macmillan International.Google Scholar
  117. Wurman, R.S. 1990. Information Anxiety : What to Do When Information Doesn't Tell You What You Need to Know. New York: Bantam.Google Scholar
  118. Wuthnow, R. 1991. Acts of compassion : caring for others and helping ourselves. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  119. Yunus, M. 2008. Social Entrepreneurs are the Solution. In Humanism in Business: Perspectives on the Development of a Responsible Business Society, ed. H. Spitzeck, M. Pirson, W. Amann, S. Khan, and E. von Kimakowitz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  120. Zimbardo, P. 1974. On Obedience to Authority. American Psychologist 29 (7): 566–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fordham UniversityBronxUSA

Personalised recommendations