How to Become a More Empathetic Leader

Mar 27, 2017Leadership

What is empathy?


You may have noticed that our blogs and postings lately have had a heavy emphasis on leadership.

This is because we have some great news! We’re very excited to be bringing The Complete Leader programme to Ireland in the near future.

The Complete Leader is a unique targeted leadership development program designed to identify and develop the leadership skills necessary to elevate your leadership to higher levels and has seen extraordinary success around the world.

According to The Complete Leader, empathy is one of the most essential characteristics that leaders can develop.

In its most simple form, empathy is about being able to feel what another is feeling. To be empathetic, you must be able to put yourself in the shoes of another, so to speak.

As pointed out by Price Associates, human beings are bred for empathy. Time and again we see people reach out to others and try to help them when times get rough.

In fact, research on mirror neurons show that our brains are wired in such a way that when neurons for sadness fire in the brain of someone we love, the same neurons often fire in the same sequence in our own brains.

We can literally plug into the experience of another.


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However, despite this, we also see many opportunities where people fail to use their empathy.

Every morning as I pass by Charlemont Luas station on my bike, I see the same man sitting helplessly outside as streams of people hurry past him.

I always find myself wondering how we can become immune to such human indignity and suffering, how we can avert our eyes, block it out and keep going with our day.

Daniel Goleman, in his excellent Ted Talk, gave a great example to illustrate this.

He was at a sushi restaurant when he overheard a woman talking about how her brother never has any success at speed dating. Her theory? He never asks about the woman!

He gets in there, he’s nervous and so he spends the precious few minutes talking about himself. He tries to impress his date by telling her about his material success and everything he has done with his life.

Sometimes empathy is scary.

We naturally want to avoid painful emotions so we shut ourselves off from others and focus on ourselves.

But in the long run, this does more harm than good. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, as Brené Brown would say in her powerful book ‘Daring Greatly’.

A little empathy can go a long way, particularly if we are in a leadership position.


How does empathy relate to leadership?


Empathy is undoubtedly an essential leadership quality. Without it, you’re likely to find your employees disgruntled, resentful, dissatisfied and handing out CVs to new companies.

To be an empathetic leader, you must care for the people you work with and see them as human beings with feelings and a life outside work, not merely machines who have a role to play in building your business.

You must go beyond your own concerns and focus on your direct supports.

In their excellent blog on empathy and leadership, Price Associates quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”


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This is the way we must view our co-workers if we want to build good relationships with others at work.

Being an empathic leader brings many benefits, including improved relations with others, greater trust and understanding and an enhanced ability to solve complex problems.

Read on for some tips on how to become a more empathetic leader.


How can I become a more empathetic leader?

Learn to people watch and pay attention to others


Every day we’re surrounded by opportunities to work on our empathy. Whether we’re in the office with our co-workers, at home with our kids or waiting in line at the supermarket, we can practice our empathy skills.

It all starts with focusing on other people. Start by watching the people around you and wondering about how they’re feeling.

Watch the body language and facial expressions of loved ones, colleagues and strangers and try to guess the kind of day they’re having.

Put yourself into their shoes and try to imagine why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling.

Practising this will help you tune into others and be a more empathetic leader at work.


Practice active listening


Have you ever noticed that people respond better to us when we really listen to them?

Active listening is a great technique for improving our empathy and our relationships with other people.

Aim to listen and feedback what you hear the other person say, for example, ‘So, what I hear you say is that you feel annoyed over X.’ Seek to really understand what the other person is saying.

Learning to listen without judgement is one of the most important aspects of empathy.


Take up a journaling habit


Journaling and reflecting upon our findings is a huge part of this experiential journey to empathy.

By documenting the process you learn quickly what works, what doesn’t work and how you can improve.

Try to develop a daily habit.


Examine your attitude


Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right?

Or, is your priority to find a solution, build relationships, and accept others?

Without an open mind and attitude, you probably won’t have enough room for empathy according to MindTools great article on Empathy.


Ask for feedback


If you want to improve your empathy, let your co-workers know and ask them for feedback.

Some questions you could ask are: ‘Do you feel I understand you?’ ‘What do you feel I don’t understand?’ ‘How could I work with you better?’ ‘Am I missing anything?’ ‘Do I have any blind spots?’

Show them that you care, that you genuinely want to become a more empathetic leader and you’re sure to find people who are willing to help.

Be open to feedback and be willing to change.


Learn to be empathetic towards yourself, too!


In a recent article on self-empathy, Forbes make the case that by being kind to yourself you can more easily be empathetic towards others.

In their article they cite research carried out at Carnegie Mellon, which suggests that self-compassion can even lead to increased positive social interactions with others.

So, try not to be too hard on yourself. Be gentle with yourself as you learn and don’t beat yourself up for mistakes.

Recognise and accept that you’re only human and you will become more tolerant, understanding and accepting of others.


Final thoughts…


One of the best things a leader can do for themselves is to learn to be more empathetic.

Working on your empathy brings many positive side-effects, including more positive interactions with others and a greater level of tolerance and understanding.

Although the journey requires practice and commitment, it reaps huge rewards.

So, which of the above tips will you implement today?

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Padraig Berry, CEO of TTI Success Insights Ireland will interview Ron Price, global leadership performance speaker and author of The Complete Leader.

Ron Price – Author: The Complete Leader








Find out more about The Complete Leader at our one time, exclusive interview with the Author; Ron Price. He will speak about the future of leadership and be available to answer any questions you have about The Complete Leader programme.

Padraig Berry – CEO: TTI Success Insights


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