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The Empathetic Leader

Do you work for a boss who is genuinely empathetic?  Is your boss one who listens or one that only cares about the company’s bottom line? Unfortunately, not everyone can say they work for a great boss. In fact, bad managers and bosses are the reasons for over 50% of those who quit, according to Gallup. How many in your circle can truly say they work for a great boss? How do you even define a “great” boss? That would be an empathetic leader.


Empathy is easy to confuse with sympathy but they aren’t the same. An empathetic boss doesn’t feel sorry for you or only exude hollow pity at your circumstances. Perhaps the simplest way to understand empathy is with the Native American proverb, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”   

A leader with empathy thinks of your feelings. They don’t have to agree with them or relate to them but they take them into account. And how is this important in a workplace? Maybe the better question is how the heck is it not? Practicing empathy considers taking other perspectives into account. It not only makes a workplace more inclusive and diverse, but also creates an environment where employees can be more productive, creative and innovative. A place where they can go from surviving to thriving.  


how to be empathetic


Forbes Coaches Council lists these 10 points as being essential to an empathetic leader:

  1. Attend to Basic Needs First
  2. Clarifying Questions and Statements are Key
  3. Practice Emotional Intelligence; Show Vulnerability
  4. Learn Continually
  5. Recognize Perspectives
  6. Unplug and Be Present
  7. Walkabout and Listen
  8. Try Teambuilding
  9. Grow Empathy through Self-Awareness
  10. Ask, Reflect and Communicate

We intrinsically need assurances that things are okay and smooth at work. And a company culture that allows us to feel like we fit in and a boss who shows us that we are appreciated goes a long way. Furthermore, it makes us want to work harder, to keep learning, to try new things and to speak up and share ideas. So why aren’t more leaders empathetic?

While many companies are progressively being proactive in training their leadership on topics such as empathy and emotional intelligence (#3 above), so many others are still stationary on this front. A leader who is willing to accept that there’s room to grow, in turn, creates room for their team to also grow and thrive, but sadly this isn’t always the case. Rather, they get so caught up in “knowing” their views are the only way (see our narcissist blog), they end up forgetting those surrounding them.

Empathy reminds you to think first, so you don’t make assumptions or judgments. So how can you be more empathetic as a manager? Talk! Talk to your people (#7 above), not just talk at them. Speak in a meaningful way and like you give a sh*t. Talk in a way that shows you are LISTENING.

Empathy isn’t about taking on others’ personal issues; it’s about gaining an understanding of them. While you don’t have to fix, nor can you fix everything; you just have to listen and be.  Sometimes we simply need to be heard.

So what does empathy have to do with being an effective leader? Everything. Not only does being empathetic give you the ability to relate, understand and see others’ perspectives, but it also presents the opportunity to relate and connect to your workforce. Wouldn’t it be rewarding to empower the people who work for you instead of talking to them in a transactional way? You know what they say… happy employees = happy customers.


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