Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In my view, an empathetic leader is someone who has honed the skill of empathy and is able to use this skill to empower, support and understand their team. While many leaders may understand this concept, I’ve noticed that many more find it difficult to implement. Let’s explore why empathy is such an essential skill for leaders to learn and master in today’s workplaces.
Empathetic Leadership Blue and Pink Heads

Are You Showing Empathy in the Workplace?

If you’re unsure if you’re embodying empathy in the workplace, consider this scenario: On your team, there is one employee whose job performance has dropped significantly. This employee’s sales numbers are down and they are not meeting expectations as they once were.

A leader lacking empathy would say:

If you fail to meet your quotas in the next quarter, we will have to discuss your future at this company.

A leader embodying empathy would say:

Your numbers have been down and I’ve noticed a change in your performance. How are you doing? Do you need someone to talk to? What can I do to support you?

I’ve found that when leaders embody empathy in the workplace, they are able to recognize when their employees are struggling. These leaders also understand how to use empathy to coach employees through difficult conversations (or times) while showing genuine care and support for their employees’ well-being.

How to go from Practicing Empathy to Being Empathetic

Now that you understand what empathy is and what it looks like, let’s explore how to go from practicing empathy to being empathetic. 

Many people feel stumped by the belief that empathy is a trait and not a skill you can learn; however, we now know that this is incorrect, and that empathy can be learned.

Here Are Some Tangible Ways You Can Begin Working on Your Empathy Skills Today

Listen With an Open Mind and Heart

Begin by looking around at your employees and ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What do I know about each person?
  • Do I know where each person is from, what they enjoy doing outside of work or what their personal or professional goals are?

These questions may not sound important, but employees report feeling more engaged when their boss shows genuine interest in them and checks in frequently. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, get to know your employees and start asking questions!

Start and Keep Asking Questions

When given the opportunity to talk about themselves, people love to share their thoughts, feelings and passions with others. Ask them where they see themselves in 5 years or ask what part of their job brings them the most satisfaction. Asking these questions and actively listening will allow you to better understand their needs and create a stronger bond between the two of you.

Get Clear on Your Values

Creating a work environment focused on having strong moral values such as putting family first or promoting work-life balance will encourage your employees to speak out about their own personal values. Together, you can find ways to incorporate them into the workspace.

Take a Courageous Step And…

Ask your employees what they think you are missing. This step takes vulnerability but being brave enough to ask for feedback and subjecting yourself to hearing about your flaws will leave you feeling empowered. Take feedback as an opportunity to evolve and better yourself and not as a sign of weakness.

The Secret to Leading Organizational Change is Empathy

Why is this all so important? I believe being an empathetic leader is crucial to creating long-lasting organizational change. 

In my career, I have spent a lot of time training leaders on how to use emotional intelligence to help them facilitate change and engage more effectively with their teams. One key thing I have noticed is that leaders who are able to learn the skill of empathy and implement it are more successful in creating real, long-lasting organizational change in a positive way versus those who don’t.

Empathetic Leader Comfort Zone vs Change

Many of us fear change, but change is inevitable and it is the way we face it that matters. Empathetic leaders are able to recognize when and what changes their team is ready for. They are able to translate that change into something to be embraced and not feared.

Now It’s Your Turn…

We all want to feel valued and empowered in our careers. By practicing empathy and emotional intelligence as a leader, you have the power to genuinely connect with your team and make employee-focused long-lasting organizational change. By implementing these practices into your leadership style, you will show your employees that you truly care about being a great leader and are willing to put in the hard work.

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