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5 Ways to Become an Empathic Leader

Empathy is a vital skill to embrace.

Photo by Mapbox on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Mapbox on Unsplash

Empathy is a vital leadership skill. There’s a hunger for empathic leadership in many organizations including corporations, governments, medical centers, and small businesses across the globe.

Recently the Global Empathy Index, which is published in the Harvard Business Review, examined data from employees’ responses to questions ranging from a CEO’s approval rating to their own happiness level in their job. Researchers found that empathic companies are the most profitable and are associated with increased employee earnings and gratification as well as customer satisfaction.

At this crucial turning point, we need empathic leaders with innovative management styles to motivate teams and provide regular moments of connection and caring, as well as global leaders who can help create a more unified and cooperative world.

The appeal of empathic leadership extends beyond conventional office environments. Empathic leadership is not only for supersensitive types. It is also for tough people in any field. Former Navy SEAL commander Mark Divine, for example, trains athletes, SWAT teams, first responders, and aspiring SEALS to combine mental toughness with intuition and heart.

Even if you don’t supervise others, you can take a leadership role by being a positive model for team members. For example, you step up to clarify your needs to a manager who you think would consider your point of view. If you receive a helpful response, it could inspire your coworkers to speak up with discernment too.

You can become an empathic leader whether you’re a new manager, a C-suite executive, or you’re simply someone seeking to lead by example at your job—even if you don’t manage anyone. The need for empathy and connection has increased in a chaotic world, and the power of everyday empathic leadership has grown.

To become a more effective leader, develop these common traits of empathic leaders, as detailed in my book The Genius of Empathy:

5 Key Traits of Empathic Leaders

  1. Lead by example. Be a role model for empathy and collaboration. Let others know that you care about their concerns and values so that team members understand: “I care about your concerns and values. Let’s work this through together.”
  2. Have emotional intelligence. Think outside the box and encourage others’ creative ideas. During a conflict, stay centered and combine logic and empathy to resolve an issue. Let others know you can identify with their dilemmas, while keeping control of your own emotions.
  3. Listen to your intuition. Trust your gut in decision-making and support others in doing so.
  4. Show appreciation. Nurture team members’ talents and strengths while using appreciation and positive reinforcement to encourage excellence.
  5. Be flexible. Learn to read others’ needs and emotions and, if necessary, adapt to a new or changing situation without becoming rigid or critical.

When an empathic leader sees a team member faltering, they don’t crank up the pressure to perform or use criticism to motivate. Nor do they lead with impatience, which only makes people freeze or panic. Instead, they begin with appreciation for the person’s contributions to the team. Then, in a caring tone, they address any difficulties they are encountering and explore strategies together to reach their goal.

Approaching a team member or co-worker with empathy rather than criticism doesn’t make you a pushover, weak, or unable to set boundaries. Rather, it shows you can incorporate strength and compassion to lead.


Former Jamba Juice CEO James D. White (2022). Empathy Is a Skill That Can Be Taught. Harvard Business Review.

Turkle, Sherry (2022). Empathy Rules. Harvard Business Review.

Brower, Tracy, PhD (2021). Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research.

Ned Kock, Milton Mayfield, Jacqueline Mayfield, Shaun Sexton, and Lina M. De La Garza (2018). Empathetic Leadership: How Leader Emotional Support and Understanding Influences Follower Performance. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 2019, Vol. 26(2) 217–236

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