Leadership In a Word: Empathy

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Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself. – Mohsin Hamind

Word Study

1: 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; also : the capacity for this

: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it. Source: Merriam–Webster

A word about empathy

Many characteristics belong in the mix for being a good leader. Empathy is crucial to that mix. That you have an awareness and intuition concerning the people you lead is essential to your success as a leader.

Too often however, many leaders are not engaged with the people they lead much less sensitive to their needs or receptive to their concerns.

Writing in usnews.com, Tom Risen cited a survey that showed “51 percent of U.S. managers are not engaged in their work, and another 14 percent are actively disengaged”.  With this type of disengagement taking place in the workplace, is it any wonder that empathy is a leadership skill that needs to be addressed?

While some may be dismissive of the importance of empathy in leadership-that it’s just a “soft skill” that’s beneath them, I respectfully disagree.

What would the landscape of your organization look like if more leaders in it took the time to be invested and empathetic? How would morale be different? What if you, as a leader, were more intentional about the concerns of the people you lead? What would those characteristics look like? Here is a sampling.

The empathetic leader is connected to his people

The key to understanding your people is being with your people. The basis for effective leadership is found in building relationships. The disconnect many leaders struggle with is predicated on and is the consequence of poor relationships. If as a leader you are not working on the relationship the divide and disconnect will only widen.

The empathetic leader cares about his people

The most appreciable asset any leader has is his or her people. As you develop empathy as a leader you will come to discover that the success of your people is your success. Their concerns are your concerns. Their frustrations are your frustrations. And at the end of the day, their wins are your wins. With empathy, you put yourself in their shoes and commit yourself to doing everything within your power to ensure their success.

The empathetic leader listens to his people

Simply put, there’s  no magic wand that a leader can wave to make them more empathetic. It’s a skill that is developed over time. It’s a two-fold process in which being intentional about it is paramount. Unless you commit yourself to the development of this skill it’s not going to just happen.

But just as important is art of listening. Empathetic leaders are careful and intentional about listening to their  people. It’s when your people have your ear, you will have their heart.  It’s as you listen to your people that trust is established, morale rebounds, loyalty is secured, and your leadership is proven. Listening is for your benefit just as much as it is theirs. Listening is not about appeasement, it’s about action.

Empathy quotes

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” – Stephen Covey

“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” – Maya Angelou

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.” H. Jackson Brown

“Empathy is the greatest virtue. From it, all virtues flow. Without it, all virtues are an act.” Eric Zorn

A final word

Empathy will elevate your leadership and it will help you build positive relationships with your people. It’s when you empathize with your people that you can more effective in leading them.


©2018 Doug Dickerson

*Note: Leadership In A Word is my writing theme for 2018. Each week the focus will be on a word that impacts you as a leader. My style is new but my message and commitment to delivering fresh leadership insight to you are the same. It’s my sincere desire to help you grow as a leader and to partner with you in reaching your full potential.


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandsons Tyson and Gideon. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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