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A Strategy for Empathy in Leadership

Empathy; and its vital role in being a leader.

To be empathic is to be aware as to why a person is in need. It is the ability to have the cognitive awareness of someone else’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and intentions.

We all believe we can be empathic, as we can generally sympathize with a person who is in need. The difference is to understand why that person is in need? There is an emphasis on being able to share the experience by perceiving and imagining someone else’s life. In other words, as you listen to someone, the triggered response is that you feel what they are feeling.

Indeed, we are tested daily on our aptitude towards having empathy. As leaders, and having the responsibility for the well-being of colleagues, the stress test is realized in each exchangeable moment. Empathy is a skill that is used through sensory, perception, and one’s ability to conceptualize how someone else is experiencing life.

What is your role in being empathic as a leader?

Being empathetic towards someone’s situations is typically described as “walking in another person’s shoes.” Being sympathetic is not the same as being empathic, as these two terms are incorrectly used interchangeably. To sympathize with someone is to care strongly for them. Whereas to be empathic is the ability to understand why this person is in need. As a leader, it is a moment of reflection to understand why a person has a particular need.

Leadership can transform the workplace, as leaders can change the environment so that everyone feels responsible and secure in the work they produce. The trick is not to coach empathy instead learn to develop greater social awareness to allow for the opportunity to be empathic.

How do you build social-awareness?

Having self-awareness is an essential aspect of being able to be empathic towards others. Being able to meditate while taking time to reflect are practices in being self-aware. Other meaningful methods that could build self-awareness specifically for leaders could be with mentors, advisors, and executive coaches. To be attentive at the moment when someone else is sharing requires the act of cultivating unbiased awareness in every moment-to-moment experience.

From an organizational perspective, there is an importance for having empathy as a leader, which crosses many disciplinary domains, from teaching to nursing, physicians, and business. The reason is simple, to understand the needs of others is vital to the quality of the relationship. Through the practice of self-care in reflection and building self-awareness, the aim would be to improve empathy development to identify how another person feels. In practice, the leader would be able to more fully understand how someone else’s thoughts and feelings can affect their thoughts and feelings, in turn, building greater self-awareness.  

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