How to Be a More Empathetic and Effective Leader

“It’s not personal, it’s just business.” We’ve all heard this phrase as justification when being dealt some unwelcome news. What people tend to miss is that business is and should be personal.

As an executive coach at Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching (ILEC), I try to instill this idea in the business leaders whom I guide. Leaders who are all about the numbers and performance, are missing something critical in their approach to leadership. They’re failing to make a connection with their employees as human beings.

In other words, they’re not approaching their relationships with empathy.

As an ILEC coach, I define empathy as the “ability to sense the developmental needs of others while being aware of their perspectives, feelings and concerns.”

Especially now, with people working from home, employees need to feel that personal, human connection with their leaders. Amid the pandemic, people are stressed out — and while the business climate is stabilizing, the future is still uncertain for many. Employees want to be seen, and they need to see their boss demonstrate vulnerability, showing them that they’re human and that they care. Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Empathic leaders are not some unfeeling, data-processing, deal-making robot — they’re experiencing many of the same things as their employees, and they need the courage to be vulnerable.

In the results-driven business climate of today, it’s easy to lose sight of those personal connections, but it’s important for employees to feel connected to the business they work for.

Demonstrating empathy empowers employees to take more risks, come up with new ideas and explore new and innovative solutions. When you feel like your boss really cares about you and your professional development, you’re more willing to take a leap of faith for that person.

Additionally, empathetic leadership helps a business retain talented and hardworking employees. Many businesses suffer from poor retention rates. So how do you retain key employees? You make sure they feel appreciated. How do you make sure they feel appreciated? Sure, you could give them more time off and throw them some bonuses — but that only goes so far. When you develop an empathetic connection with those in your charge, you’re sending an even more powerful message: that your organization values them. When someone feels valued, they’re less likely to go out searching for other opportunities.

When you take that extra time to connect on a personal level, you’re letting your employees know that you’re eager to hear their contributions. In turn, your employees will feel more committed to the organization.

Acknowledging the benefits of leading with empathy is easy. Enacting it into everyday workplace culture will take some time and effort.

The best way to start introducing empathy into your organization is to start listening more — and make sure that you’re hearing your employees. One of the best ways to make sure they know you’re listening is to use active listening techniques. Show that you’re listening through your own body language. Provide verbal feedback affirming that you heard and understood what they are telling you.

It takes just a few minutes each day to touch base with your team. Engaging with employees in a back-and-forth dialogue makes them feel valued and encourages them to speak up more, but also makes them trust you more and gives the impression that you’re available. 

Empathy also promotes the “psychological ownership” of organizational goals. When someone takes psychological ownership over a goal, they begin to feel like they own that goal, rather than feeling like it is someone else’s. When a team member begins to feel like they actually possess an organizational goal, they will be more willing to go the extra mile and put everything they have into a project. It becomes a reflection of themselves, rather than just another task that needs completing.

Apart from using empathy as a tactic to keep employees happy and engaged, approaching situations with an empathetic point of view is used to improve results as well. 

Using empathy, a leader can read situations and know what someone is thinking or feeling before they even verbalize it. Being able to read the emotions of a client, for example, gives you a window into their mind. Being able to preempt any issues a client may have puts you ahead of the curve and allows you to proactively address those issues before they become serious.

Similar to how empathetic leadership makes you approachable to your team members, it can also help you get closer to your clients. If you can demonstrate that you are willing and eager to listen to the concerns of clients, they will feel comfortable being more open and honest with you. Having clear and open communication with clients is critical.

So many of the problems facing business leaders today could be resolved by spending time in the shoes of their customers and employees. 

John Burt is a Master Certified Leadership Coach at Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching. Burt’s proprietary coaching process strives to help executives and emerging leaders achieve their full potential and increase performance. To learn more about John Burt and Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching, visit

Previous ArticleNext Article
Send this to a friend