Leading with Empathy

by Samuel Duru on 31st January, 2012 at 3:42 PM CEST

Empathy is formally defined as the ability to identify and understand another person's situation, feelings and motives. It's our capacity to recognize the concerns other people have. Put differently, empathy simply means: "putting yourself in the other person's shoes" or "seeing things through someone else's lens".

Empathy is a stifled phrase in the leadership literature, but it’s an indispensable leadership concept. It’s one of the yardsticks for measuring the Emotional Quotient (EQ) of a leader. It enables us to establish ties of trust with the people we lead; and gives us insights into what their feelings or thoughts may be. Empathy enhances our understanding of people and informs our decisions. In today’s organizational environment, it has become critical to not only understand the scope of your work, but also to be able to analyse and understand yourself and the people you manage, in terms of motivation, behaviour and performance potential.

“Dr. E. Scott Geller, Senior Partner at Safety Performance Solutions, in one of his articles coined the term “empathic correction” which means essentially that we need to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes before diagnosing a behaviour-related problem and offering advice for improvement. Likewise, leaders need to take time to understand another person’s perspective before giving direction, advice, or support. In other words, leaders need to listen with empathy and then lead with empathy. The result is empathic leadership.”

Challenge:Future is breeding leaders in all segments of the society; leaders in science and technology, the academia––leaders in business––entrepreneurs who can create the millions of green jobs that we need across the globe––political leaders who have the political will to create the critical policies that we need to make the world a better place for all. Emotional Intelligence is a must-have quality for us; the new generation of leaders who are working on all cylinders to zap the myriad challenges of our age.

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In a 1998 classic Harvard Business Review article entitled "What Makes a Leader?", Dr. Daniel Goleman sequestrates three reasons for why empathy is very indispensable: the ever-increasing use of teams, (which he refers to as "cauldrons of bubbling emotions"), the fast pace of globalization (with cross cultural communication easily leading to misunderstandings) and the increasing need to retain talent. "Leaders with empathy," states Goleman, "do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways." However, this does not mean that they agree with everyone's view or try to please everybody. On the contrary, they "thoughtfully consider employees' feelings––along with other factors––in the process of making intelligent decisions."

Empathy comes naturally for some people, while for others it does not. Whatever the case, I strongly believe we can develop this quality. After all - a leader is not called GREAT because he has no flaws. He is called GREAT because of his many positive traits. Nevertheless, you can find helpful practical tips you might consider to achieve this in Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

Become an empathic leader!

~ Samuel from South Africa, Action Team #8, C:F Writer Leader

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Joseph Odoemenam

Joseph Odoemenam

I love this.

31st January, 2012 @ 3:51 PM CEST

Hajdi Kostova

Hajdi Kostova | Action team

Empathy is a great trait for a leader to have, and not just leaders - but everyone else too. If we're all a little more emphatic and less self-centered the world would be a much better place. Great article Samuel!

31st January, 2012 @ 8:01 PM CEST

Vanjo Gerand Gicanal

Vanjo Gerand Gicanal

Like :)

1st February, 2012 @ 8:10 AM CEST



Yes totally agree empathy reduces greed.

2nd February, 2012 @ 4:57 PM CEST

Andrea Topić

Andrea Topić | Action team

Excellent, and thank you a lot :)))))))))))))))

3rd February, 2012 @ 2:18 PM CEST

Edwin Rutsch

Edwin Rutsch

May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

I posted a link to your article in our
Empathy and Compassion Magazine
The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world

3rd February, 2012 @ 5:41 PM CEST

Muhammad Jehangir Khan

Muhammad Jehangir Khan | Action team | CF Chapters


3rd February, 2012 @ 10:50 PM CEST

Samuel Duru

Samuel Duru | Action team

Thanks everyone for your brilliant comments!

@Edwin: special thanks to you for suggesting further reading. The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy is true a cornucopia of information and resources about empathy and compassion. Thanks for posting the link to my article in your magazine.

6th February, 2012 @ 9:56 AM CEST

Marcy Axness

Marcy Axness

So important, Samuel, thank you! May I respectfully submit that raising citizens with this level of EQ / social intelligence is what my brand new book addresses: "Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers." I hope you and your readers will check it out!! www.ParentingForPeace.com

7th February, 2012 @ 12:33 AM CEST

Samuel Duru

Samuel Duru | Action team

Wow! Awesome! We will definitely check it Marcy. Thanks for sharing!

7th February, 2012 @ 6:35 PM CEST

Julien AGBE

Julien AGBE

very good! i think each of us need to empathic for a better world.

5th March, 2012 @ 5:36 PM CEST

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