Empathetic Leaders Are The Best Leaders

Investing in people is expensive, so budget for it. However, managing uninspired people, high turnover or a disengaged workforce will cost you everything.

Regardless of your industry, how many people you employ, or how many clients you manage, your leadership style touches people’s lives. Consider how you impact others for the good (and the bad).

Most people spend about a third of their days at work, which positions you to be a major contributor toward the happiness of others; especially your team. As an employer, you frame the answer to a common question: “How was your day today?” You are responsible for their output and professional development.

This requires empathy or “the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others.” This is “more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.’


Become a more empathetic leader

So, in order to bridge the gap and take a more human approach to leadership, here are a few ideas aimed to inspire you. Challenge traditional, impersonal management styles with these approaches.


1. Play a deeper role in the lives of others

Empathy is the most important virtue for leaders to wrap their minds around. Really put yourself in your colleagues shoes; walk through their lives. Step into their house. Sit at their dinner table. Talk to their kids. Write them a note they can proudly hang on their refrigerator. Brag about them to their parents. Stay late at the office with them and help find solutions to their most pressing problems.


Photo: Charles Deluvio, Unsplash/YFS Magazine
Photo: Charles Deluvio, Unsplash/YFS Magazine

Nobody will stand up at your funeral and tell stories about profit margins and your wealth. They will talk about the role you played in their lives. Let this be your score card.


2. Acknowledge and empower team potential

Every employee has a leadership role in their home. They may make major capital decisions, balance budgets, develop family culture, lead and inspire their children, review leases, write wills, and do it all–without your help, direction or oversight. They are smarter and more capable than others may give them credit for. The lower people are on the pay scale, the more creative and capable they are with capital.

What happens to all of those capabilities when an employee steps into your office? How has your hierarchy impacted their potential? What if every person, at every level, was fully engaged in building your company?

Don’t hire fancy consultants to solve problems your team can readily answer. The best solutions are often found by those closest to the problem. You don’t always know better. Ask before you tell.


3. Write their hero story

Driving a school bus is probably the most important job in the world. What could be more important than safely delivering 72 children home every day? That’s a bus driver’s hero story — but every employee has one.


Photo: Ian Schneider, Unsplash/YFS Magazine
Photo: Ian Schneider, Unsplash/YFS Magazine

Leaders need to develop a hero story for their team members. Tell that story for them, and celebrate their contribution publicly. Make them proud of their work, and performance will follow — happily, naturally and easily. Everybody’s work matters. You just need to connect the dots, write the story, and tell it.


4. Build others 1% better each day

Great leaders know they don’t build their own business. Instead, they develop and inspire people who build it for them. No one person or group of people can build anything great alone. It takes an army, and the aggregate growth of soldiers in your army. This is the rising tide that determines your company’s growth potential and capacity.

Leaders need to plot the trajectory of every single one of their employees. Set a simple goal of improvement; just 1% every day. It’s a simple, modest goal that’s massively transformative over time. One percent better every day yields a result that’s 1,260 times greater than 1% less when multiplied by 365 days in a year.


Employees increasingly pursue workplaces where they feel included and understood. Meanwhile, those who don’t contribute to the $11 billion in revenue lost due to employee turnover annually.

Creating a strong company culture is a requirement, but it has to start with the purpose any given employee feels every single day. Investing in people is expensive, so budget for it. However, managing uninspired people, high turnover or a disengaged workforce will cost you everything.


This article has been edited.

Christopher Kelly is the co-founder of Convene, a company that combines service and design to improve the workplace experience.




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