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How to Develop Empathy as a Leader

by Mar 15, 2021

Some people think of empathy in leadership as a weakness. Some believe it to be a weakness even as a virtue. 

Empathy is a right-brain activity, which instigates people to think that it is a discipline associated with being touchy-feely. However, empathy is currency, and sadly too many people are absolutely broke.

“Empathy at its core is a very valued virtue and emotional intelligence currency.”

Empathy enables you to think about how people feel and helps you understand a problem by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is one of the best virtues to have as a leader of an organization or a group of people dedicated to achieving any cause.

There are several things that you can do every day, which will help you develop empathy as a leadership skill. 

Here are some of the ways in which you can develop empathy as a leader. Test these tips by practicing these principles in your daily life and watch your empathy grow exponentially.

Be a Good Listener

To be an empathetic leader you should not just truly listen to what others have to say, but also interpret and feel what is being said. You do this by paying attention to the tone and the emotions of the other person.

Being a good listener means that you are focused on listening, not on what you’re going to say when the person is done. You will gain more from listening to the other person emphatically rather than thinking about how you are going to respond.

“What most people are looking for aren’t answers with smart solutions to their problems, they are seeking to be understood, and validated first.”

Don’t Interrupt

Empathetic leaders know how easily a person’s quality of words might decrease if they are interrupted when speaking. A listener who is distracted comes off as impatient to the speaker.

When the listener hurries the speaker in order to move along with whatever they are trying to say, it leaves the speaker unable to recite their thoughts in an effective and an efficient manner.

Rushing to conclusions also has the same repercussions. Nobody wants a leader who rushes to conclusions without listening to the problem in the first place.

Interrupting people creates contention, when instead, as a leader practicing empathy, you want to create a safe space for expression and for validation.

“An empathetic leader listens with the intention to create a safe space for those approaching them.”

Be Present

When you’re talking to someone, you should never check the time, look around in the room, read an email, or respond to a message on your phone. It is that simple, and nowadays super difficult to practice.

When someone is speaking, you must be present with the person; not only physically, but also emotionally. Hence, you have to make sure that you don’t insult them by being genuinely distracted when they’re trying to talk.

One way to practice being a good listener is to ask yourself “what can I learn here that is of value to both of us”, the other is to be humble and remind yourself “everyone I speak with comes from the Universe to teach me something”

These two simple shift in context will help you to listen with intentionality, and thus increases your ability to be fully present.

“Being present as a leader, means listening without judgements.”

Don’t Judge

To practice more empathy as a leader, when people are speaking, not only do you have to listen to them proactively, but you also have to make sure that you don’t judge them while they are speaking.

When someone is speaking, you have to ensure that you leave your biases behind and be open to what the person might be feeling.

To be an empathetic leader and to develop empathy as a leadership skill, you have to ensure that you don’t judge the speaker and label them with agreement or disagreement.

Here is where you can go back to those two simple context shift ideas you just read about, allowing you to tap into your curiosity and humility.

Watch Your Body Language

As an empathetic leader within an organization, you have to understand the significance of body language in a conversation and ensure that you catch the cues the other person is sending out.

With that, you also have to mind your own body language when you deal with others. You have to remain open to listening to the other person speaking.

Practice makes perfect and if you spend time understanding how people feel when they are relaying their concerns, you will become better with time.

It’s about being open. This begins with your face. Your eyes need to be wide open and focused on the speaker. Smiling, and nodding signals you are positive and receptive.

Your body needs to be turned toward the person speaking rather than away. Your palms open and turned toward the speaker also. Don’t cross your legs, as it create a sense of being closed off.

When a leader lacks the quality of empathy, they make it hard and difficult for people to approach them with their problems. This also makes them feel that the leader is selfish and does not care about the interests of others.

This is not a feeling that you want to propagate. When you practice and develop empathy as a leadership skill, you do not come off as weak. With an empathetic leader, everyone feels comfortable and knows that their concerns will not go unheard.

“Practicing empathy as a leader is all about being open to receive from the other person while creating a safe and welcoming space to do so.”

Being open and welcoming is powerful, as it creates an environment of trust and transparency. A leader who practices empathy, creates a powerfully vulnerable environment where everyone can be heard, validated and thrive.

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