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How to be an Empathetic Leader

Patrick Nelson, February 1, 2016

Empathetic Leader

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
– Ernest Hemingway

Contrary to popular belief, most employees do not quit their jobs because of pay or benefits. The findings of a Gallup study released in early 2015 shared that half of all employees who quit did so because of their boss/manager. One reason cited was lack of empathy.

As leaders, we must be able to empathize with whom we’re seeking to build relationships.

Before we talk about ways to help you be more empathetic towards others, let’s first dispel some misconceptions about empathy.

  • Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy lacks the shared emotions and sense of connection that empathy brings.
  • Empathy does not mean that you take on another person’s problems. It does mean that you are able to recognize their challenges and will do more to help them than just giving them your well-wishes.
  • Empathy is not surrounding yourself with “yes” people. “Yes” people support every decision you make, regardless of how harmful it can be. They do not have your best interest in mind. As an empathetic leader, there will be times you have to deliver a difficult truth.

Now that we know what empathy is not, here are some tips to become more empathetic and build higher levels of trust and support from those who look to you for leadership.

  • Be an active listener. Ask questions and seek clarification to make sure you understand the issue.
  • Look at the issue from the other person’s viewpoint. This requires that you separate your conditioned beliefs and assumptions and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Let the other person know you care and want to help by taking actionable steps. This may include making changes in policy and procedures if necessary.
  • Teach others the importance of empathy and it’s effect on the success of the organization. Start small and provide workplace examples.

An empathetic leader is trustworthy which allows for the building of strong teams within organizations. Foster an environment of empathy in your organization that leads to greater success.

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