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CEO of The Hospice South Africa shares why compassion and passion are critical to success

Great leadership comes from passion and compassion. Regardless of industry or business, the best leaders care about people. 

GG van Rooyen, Entrepreneur, 10 October 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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  • Player: Dr Liz Gwyther
  • Company: Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa (HPCA)
  • Position: CEO
  • Background: Dr Liz Gwyther is the CEO of HPCA, chair of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA), and a director of the African Palliative Care Association, ehospice and Pain Society of South Africa.
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I don’t believe that a work/life balance can truly be achieved these days. And I think this is especially true of corporate CEOs and company founders. There’s just too much to do, and the fact of the matter is, most of us have more work than we can fit into your typical eight-hour workday. However, as the adage goes, if you do something you love, you never really work. That’s why passion is so important.

Passion is what drives the most successful people. If you don’t truly care about what you do, chances are you won’t be motivated to put in the necessary time and effort in the long run. You must love what you do.

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Now, all of this being said, it’s important to add that we must make time for our families. Generally speaking, families are crucial in providing the support needed for success. You don’t want your personal life to become a casualty of your professional success.

Compassion is crucial

Compassion is at the very centre of the Hospice movement, so it is incredibly important to us as an organisation. Whenever we interview possible employees, we make sure that they are compassionate. Without it, there simply wouldn’t be a good organisational fit. However, compassion’s importance goes much wider than that. It is critical to every person and every business.

I think some people are just inherently more compassionate than others but it can be cultivated and strengthened. It starts in the home and at school, but even adults can work on becoming more compassionate. Mindfulness meditation that focuses on compassion is a great way to do this.

We often have this belief, especially in the business world, that compassion is a weakness — we have that sort of ‘take no prisoners’ approach. The reality is, compassion makes us stronger. Empathy is crucial to creating a strong and resilient organisation.

Take the time to debrief. The HPCA’s mission is to promote quality in life, dignity in death and support in bereavement for all living with a life-threatening illness by supporting member hospices and partner organisations. It’s a difficult task that can obviously bring with it an emotional burden — being present and caring for someone who is dying is never easy — but this emotional toll is outweighed by the fulfilment that it offers. That said, we make sure that employees have opportunities to debrief and discuss the challenges that they face.

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It’s an important exercise that should be encouraged in any high-stress situation. Employees are not just another business asset that can be expected to keep performing. People have lives and worries and emotions. It’s important to acknowledge this and create an environment where people feel as if they can talk about their problems and challenges.

I am always amazed at how adaptable people are. We often see patients who find immense joy and fulfilment in their final days and weeks.

It’s an important lesson for all of us: We are adaptable and can often deal with far more than we think we can. Don’t let your fears and problems overwhelm you. Chances are, you’re tougher than you think.


Work on cultivating compassion and create a company culture that encourages honesty. People should feel as if they can be honest about problems and challenges. 

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GG van Rooyen, Entrepreneur

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