Boldness, toughness, and grit are great leadership qualities, but empathy makes them effective.
Apart from empathy, leaders are jerkholes.
Empathy is stepping into someone’s experience.
- Empathy is laughing when someone laughs and crying when someone cries.
- Empathy is understanding why someone thinks the way they think.
- Empathy inspires courage in others.
Empathy honors and validates people. Lack of empathy ignores emotional states. When a colleague is excited about a small win, lack of empathy ignores or belittles it. “That’s no big deal. We have more important matters to deal with.”
Empathy includes perspective taking.
Empathy says you matter as a person, not just as a tool for producing results.
3 ways to develop empathy:
#1. Stop minimizing your own emotional state. You might be tempted to say, “I’ll be alright,” when you experience setbacks. Statements about the future are strategies for avoiding the present. If a setback stings, acknowledge it. “That hurts.”
#2. Understand three dimensions of empathy. Daniel Goleman describes three types of empathy in his article “Empathy 101”.
- Cognitive empathy: The ability to see the world through other’s eyes. The benefit is learning how to communicate effectively.
- Emotional empathy: The ability to feel what another feels. To express emotional empathy, notice your own responses to another’s facial expressions, vocal tones, and body language.
- Heart empathy: The ability to create a safe space where people dare to take risks. Heart empathy lets people know they are supported.
#3. Discuss empathy in your one-on-ones. Ask direct reports:
- When do you feel that I am most on your team?
- What might I do to give you the sense that I’m listening?
Simon Sinek believes empathy is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox. It can be expressed by simply asking, “Is everything OK?”
How might leaders develop and express empathy?
My friend Nate Regier’s article, “Power Causes Brain Damage, Beware of the Hubris Syndrome,” relates to this important topic.