Leading with Empathy- How Leaders can improve relationships


“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” Oprah Winfrey

Empathy has become a must have component of leadership if we want to build better relationships, exceed customer expectations and connect on a cross-cultural level.  Leaders will need empathy to develop and keep good people in their organizations. Most importantly, leaders continue to cultivate their empathy skills to become more relational and less transactional in their leadership journey.  Daniel Goelman with his work on Emotional Intelligence has said that the main task of any leader is to channel the emotions of his team in the right direction.

When we think of empathy and leadership, here are some golden nuggets to consider:

  • Empathetic leaders have a better chance to understand our team’s feelings. 
  • Empathy is a human need to relate through a caring dialogue.
  • Empathetic ability has a major significance for leadership.
  • Empathy helps the leader’s relations with people and communication.
  • Understanding the intentions, feelings and thoughts of others help leaders become more in tuned with their teams’ success and failures.
  • Empathy helps create an atmosphere of cooperation in any environment.

Here are some suggestions on how to lead with empathy in any environment:

Empathy comes from caring about people

As simple as it sounds, caring for someone else is the very first step to emotionally connect with another person. Leaders can show their empathy and caring by making a commitment to the development of their people to success. It means showing concern about their future dreams and goals.

As a leader, you have to support all efforts to help people get better by taking an interest in their lives. If you don’t know where your people are on a personal level, you cannot lead effectively. Leaders care to know the team they are lead by asking questions and making the motivating for increased morale.

It’s about them

People want to believe that every company decision we make is what’s best for their future and the company. It’s not about us. It’s about them. If they trust your decision, they will most likely follow your lead. This is where trust comes in for a lot of people in many organizations. Everyone wants to feel their opinion counts in the final say. Everyone wants to be heard and taken seriously when it comes to making major company decisions.

It’s about people

Leadership is more than accomplishing a goal or mission. Leading with empathy involves thinking about people as individuals, not just numbers on financial statements. Good leaders help others do their best and improve their performance and serve as role models. Transactional leadership, which relies mostly on formal authority, only works for a short time and achieves unproductive results. Assuming people will do as you command is a cowardly indicator of your leadership incompetence. Empathy requires humility-think of a humble leader as one who is selfless and places his or her people above his own personal needs.

Empathy helps relationships

Leadership is a relationship. We cannot expect others to go very far with us in a relationship until we share who we are and in turn learn who they are in a meaningful manner. Each person in a relations ship brings unique perspectives, experiences, strengths and challenges to a team. Allowing everyone to contribute to a vision in a meaningful way is better than sidelining someone for the sake of an imagined better outcome.

Be willing to listen

As leaders we must be listening rather than waiting to speak. As you attempt to be more empathetic, try not to cross-examine people for information about themselves. Instead, focus on developing your understanding and gratitude of what makes them unique. The next time you have the occasion to recognize someone’s good performance, ask if you can spend an hour with them learning how they do a task so successfully. Every time you have something interesting to say, resist the urge. Instead say something as simple as, “Tell me more about yourself.” If you really listen, you will be well on the way to increasing your empathy—and your caring leadership character—in the eyes of those you lead.



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