Showing Empathy as a Leader.

Showing empathy seems to have many leaders on edge in today’s business environment. Knowing how and when to appropriately show empathy can be confusing and intimidating if it is not a natural skill that leaders possess.

What exactly is empathy?  Empathy is understanding and identifying with the emotions of another – understanding another’s emotions and treating them appropriately. However, being empathetic to someone’s situation is often not enough. True leadership is also being impacted enough by another’s distress to personally take steps to relieve it. That is compassion!

The key to being an empathic leader today is paying attention – to be aware of what employees are feeling and listening to their stories. This requires extra effort and intentionality for a leader. Let’s face it, we’re all busy.  With many employees still working from home and/or meeting over video calls, it’s hard to know what’s going on with employees all the time. By being more intentional and regularly asking employees how they are doing and feeling, leaders can be more in tune with employees and their needs.

When a leader shows they care, it can strengthen and engage those around them.  Employees want to know they are understood and often, that’s all they really need to keep moving forward toward their goals.

But, what if you have a leader who rarely, if ever, shows empathy for others?  Or even worse, doesn’t know how? Can empathy be taught?

The answer is yes! If a leader wants to truly be successful in today’s business environment, they have to be willing to do things differently, to demonstrate vulnerability, and be willing to take some action.

Here’s an example. In a recent coaching engagement, we were working with a particular leader attempting to help him realize that he needed to create an environment where people could share what was on their minds. Many employees felt uncomfortable to him. In an effort to help him get others more comfortable with him, he initiated a monthly “lunch with the GM”. These events got together small groups of employees, with no set agenda, to create a vehicle to encourage people to share what was on in their minds. At first, employees were reluctant to speak up, but in time they felt more comfortable talking about how they were feeling about a lot of things; the pandemic, the business environment, even things that were affecting them personally. Not only did this help the leader better understand what was going with the employees and their work, but employees were also inspired to show greater empathy to one another. It created an environment where people were able to share and celebrate successes openly!

In time, showing empathy became more natural for the leader, and he started to practice empathy in other ways, both privately and publicly. Practice became habit!

Developing and/or enhancing the habit of empathy as a leader, can go a long way to improving a leader’s efficacy and reputation within the organization. By demonstrating more curiosity, displaying active listening skills, engaging others by seeking to understand and asking powerful questions, leaders can improve their ability to show compassion for others.

If your organization has a leader that could benefit from developing greater empathy and is willing to invest in helping them, we can help! Investing in developing empathy in leaders can go a long way in affirming the organizational culture you are trying to build.

Contact Patty Prosser at for more information.

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