Lead with Empathy

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by Jeffrey Richardson

As a leadership coach, one of the frequent questions I hear from clients is how can they be more strategic and impactful. My answer: lead with empathy.

Leadership requires empathy not solely to make others feel better or check off our inclusive boxes. Leadership requires empathy because understanding the experiences, feelings and perspectives of others is core to unlocking our own potential and necessary to lead a group of people or an organization.

"...empathetic leadership strengthens the capacity of leaders to be strategic, relevant and effective."

Very often empathy in the context of leadership is viewed as a characteristic we value because it allows others to be heard. We often view empathetic leadership through the lens of “they need”. They need to be heard. They need to be validated. They need to be included.While empathy can give voice to those seeking to be heard and acknowledged, empathetic leadership strengthens the capacity of leaders to be strategic, relevant and effective.

Leading with empathy is not about giving others a platform to complain or make excuses. Empathetic leadership opens the door to clarity, knowledge, understanding and awareness. As we find clarity in our mission and vision, it allows us to expand our knowledge and understand the landscape and problems we seek to address with heightened focus and awareness. It is our heightened awareness that then allows us to refine and define our strategy, and allows us to maximize our impact.

How do we lead with empathy? We start by developing an understanding of how others’ perspectives can lead us to be more strategic and impactful. There are four questions I encourage clients to reflect on in the context of empathetic leadership:

  1. Can I lead if I do not understand the experience and perspective of those I seek to lead?

  2. Can I define a relevant mission and vision if I do not understand the broader context surrounding the individuals, organizations or communities I seek to impact?

  3. Can I create an effective process and structure without an awareness of what has previously been implemented?

  4. Can I foster trust and collaboration if I do not understand the culture that has shaped the environment?

Regardless of what sector you work in or issue area your work focuses on, understanding the experiences and perspectives of others is not only important for those with which we seek to empathize, it is pivotal for our own leadership capacity. Stepping out of our silos and exposing ourselves to the experiences and perspectives of others can feel like a big risk, but that is the job of a leader.

Taylor Enders