Let Empathy Influence How You Lead

In recent blogs, we have talked about why practicing empathy in the moment is important and what empathy is not. So, how does developing your empathy add value to how you lead?

Imagine a situation where your team member is not measuring up. They missed a deadline. They blew up at a co-worker or they are just making your life miserable as a leader. It’s easy to diagnose the situation as poor performance, bad attitude, bad job fit, or personality issues. Then, we make decisions on how to proceed based on our surface diagnosis. 

Empathy lets you dive below the surface to what is really taking place so that you can deal with the root cause(s) and not just the symptoms

Let’s say you recently went to the doctor. He took your vitals and looked you over, but never asked you about your symptoms. Would you trust his diagnosis? The best doctors are the ones who listen and enter into our situation — they empathize and that gives them a deeper level of understanding. Their greater insight about our health situation makes their diagnosis more accurate and relatable which empowers us to take action and tackle whatever health challenges we are facing. It’s called bedside manner. Your favorite doctor has it!

The same is true for empathy in your leadership .. . . 

It’s not just emotions, it’s also underlying values.

When our emotions are triggered in our interactions with others we tend to react. When we create the space to empathize  and engage our values and the values of the other person we create an intentional response. 

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

Viktor Frankl

It’s not just seeing problems, it’s also potential innovation.

Empathy isn’t just for those moments when someone is frustrated or hurting, it is also the opportunity to step into the experience of another person and gain insight that pushes you to think outside of the box and see new possibilities.

Empathy is full presence to what’s alive in the other person at this moment. 

John Cunningham

It’s not just validation, it’s also empowerment.

When we step into someone else’s shoes and truly connect to their experience, we can not only validate their situation, we also become more relatable in the echo of similar experiences. Then, you can more effectively partner with them for change. 

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” 

Mohsin Hamid

It’s not just leading, it’s also influencing.

The people who follow you will do what you ask, but engaging empathy in your conversations moves beyond telling to influencing. Then, they take ownership, contribute their own ideas, execute with enthusiasm and even become a cheerleader for the project or the organization. 

“The only way to change someone’s mind is to connect with them from the heart.” 

Rasheed Ogunlaru, Life Coach & Speaker

You will see and experience the world differently if you choose to practice more empathy regularly. So, consider getting started and see what unfolds.  You and those you lead will benefit. 

Next Steps:

  1. Take it out for a spin … try on your empathy in an upcoming conversation:
    1. Ask more open ended questions to invite them to share. 
    2. Listen and reflect back what you hear them say. 
    3. Watch their body language or reaction to see how they respond.
  2. Tune into this podcast episode on Embracing the Leader You Are to hear more about Tami Stordahl’s story of empathetic leadership. 
  3. What is your insight about how empathy influences your ability to lead well? Share your comment below.

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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