Powerful Leadership Through Empathy

Female leader showing empathy

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

― Author and Speaker, Simon Sinek,“Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”

As a leader here at MJM, I’m constantly challenged to grow my skills and knowledge around how to lead, what it means to lead, and how I can lead others in a way that motivates and inspires them.

But nothing has been more important than learning to lead through empathy.

Leading through empathy means we as leaders must not focus solely on the output of our teams (including the behaviors and actions they demonstrate), but that we listen to, try to understand and truly care about the hearts of our employees.

What is Empathy?

The concept of empathy is one that often gets thrown in with others words like “sympathy,” but it’s actually quite different.

The Oxford dictionary says:

Empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” whereas sympathy means “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”

We can be sympathetic for team members when it warrants, but creating an inspiring, highly motivated work environment where team members feel valued and heard requires us to get to know each other and practice this skill of being empathetic.

Be the Example

“You share with the people who have earned the right to hear your story.”

― Author, scholar and speaker, Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly” and “The Power of Vulnerability”

Whether you’re building a new team or you’ve been working with the same staff for years, at some point you, as the leader, are going to need to recognize that earning your team’s trust is more important than anything else you do as a leader.

It’s a basic human principle, really, that we all want to be understood, heard and valued. Whether they ask for it directly, retreat when it’s not given to them, or complain to co-workers when they feel they aren’t being heard—every member of your team has the innate desire to be understood, heard and valued, and they all have different ways of asking for it.

When I find myself being too busy with my own tasks and responsibilities to notice and provide feedback, schedule time to listen intently, or ask (and truly listen) to how they’re feeling, I’m missing out on the opportunity to pour into and better understand my team members. Not only that, but I’m missing out on the benefits of building fulfilling relationships and trust with them as well. That’s all me—I’m losing out by focusing on the wrong things (tasks, not people).

How do you earn your team’s trust and the right to hear their stories?

Earning the right to hear your team’s stories and opening the door to being empathic starts by you being real. It’s hard to be vulnerable or admit faults as a leader ― there’s a lot of stigma that leaders have to know it all, that they’ve got it all figured out. But hiding behind a façade and wearing the mask of perfection is harmful and keeps leaders from connecting in more meaningful ways, as well as keeping teams from trusting their leaders and wanting to do their best. In fact, one of the number one reasons people leave a job is because of problems with their direct supervisor.

What Can You Do?

Share your stories. Allow your imperfections to show. Be honest about where you need to grow. Apologize when you’re wrong. Lead by example. Listen without waiting for your turn to speak. Show others you truly care about them, not just their work.

No matter what role you play in your company—owner, manager, team member or consultant—you have the opportunity to lead and inspire others. Approach all people with the desire to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. By being yourself and allowing others to be themselves you can inspire the hearts and minds of so many—and truly be an effective leader.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

― Simon Sinek