Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: the Importance of Practicing Empathic Leadership


The terrifying boss who shouts commands and berates subordinates may make for good TV, but not so much for a good leader. In fact, it turns out that bosses who have mastered the “soft” skills – i.e., the people-centric skills – are the ones who get top marks in today’s workplaces. Unlike the organizations of old, where hierarchies reigned, and workers simply followed orders, today’s workplaces are built around adaptiveness, collaboration, and flat leadership structures.

The goal of a good leader today is to bring out the best in their employees. And one of the best ways to do that is through empathy.

Empathy Underpins Effective Leadership

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and relate to how they experience the world. Leaders who are able to do this are better able to understand why people are behaving in certain ways – and are able to make decisions informed by those feelings. Ever heard someone exasperatedly say, “read the room!”? Usually, it means that a massive failure of empathy has occurred.

So just how valuable is it to be able to get inside someone else’s head? Very. Empathetic leaders:

  • are better able to retain high-quality staff
  • are great team builders
  • foster engagement and collaboration among staff
  • promote empathetic leadership strategies among future leaders
  • are better able to understand their target audience or market
  • are better able to predict the outcomes of critical decisions

Maybe empathy isn’t such a soft skill, after all!

Finding Your Inner Empathy

Some people are naturally empathetic. But if that’s not you, don’t worry. Empathy is a skill that can be learned and honed – and plenty of companies are investing in courses or coaching to help leaders do just that.

Here are a few ways to put yourself on the path towards more empathetic leadership.

  • Learn to listen. Listening often and listening well is key to becoming a more empathetic leader. Seek input from your teams and show that you value their expertise and engagement. The more open you are to their input, the more they’ll come to you with ideas and solutions. Plus, if they know they’re making a difference, they’re more likely to stick around.
  • Embody others’ perspectives. Make a concerted effort to put yourself in others’ shoes and consider what they’re feeling and why. This will help you understand their attitudes, decision-making, or personal challenges. If you’re struggling to get a read on someone, just ask. This is especially true for people who represent backgrounds or perspectives that may be less familiar to you.
  • Make yourself available. Become the “my door is always open” type. Make sure people know that they’re welcome to come to you with questions or concerns – and strive to be a constant presence in the office. This doesn’t mean bossing everyone around; it means showing that you’re engaged and invested in your team and your work.
  • Make empathy an office buzzword. By talking about empathy and its value, you give it validity in the workplace. Your staff will follow your lead, and perhaps even help lead the way. You’ll be prompted to keep focusing on empathetic leadership, and you’ll be modeling the same sorts of behaviors for the up-and-coming leaders on your team.

Empathy Starts Here

As the world looks forward to an uncertain future, empathetic leadership is more valuable than ever. Leaders who take the time to truly listen to and understand their employees, customers, and audiences are the ones who will get the right kinds of results – and will help create a more empathetic workplace and the world for us all.

See Also:

CEO Series: Managing Your Business During Times of Uncertainty

How to Become a Well-Rounded Business Leader

Overcome the Challenges of Managing Remote Teams

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