Article – Empathy


This month, we challenge you to lead with empathy. In 2018, we introduced our Five Ys of Leadership as a better way to assess, and strive to be, the leader you would choose to follow. The second of our Five Ys challenges leaders to clarify and model the standards for empathy in the organizations they lead.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” Algorithms, social media, and political polarization make it easy to embrace confirmation bias, reinforcing our beliefs while dismissing the beliefs of others. Do you allow this same mentality to invade your work environment?

It takes time and effort—action—to solicit and truly understand others’ perspectives.

Employees value leaders who care enough to listen. Employees are also willing to leave a job when leaders don’t listen. No one denies that successful sales depend upon our ability to be aware of and sensitive to the thoughts and experiences of our clients. Research further shows that organizations with high levels of perceived empathy benefit from enhanced collaboration and innovation. Empathy is good business.

We challenge leaders and aspiring leaders this month to demonstrate empathy.

How to lead with empathy

  1. Understand the Stories. Invest time to know your colleagues, individually and collectively. Learn their strengths, insecurities, motivations, fears, and personal history. Get to know their story. Check in. Ask how they are doing and how current circumstances are affecting them. Relieve yourself of the pressure to solve their problems. Instead, listen with empathy and compassion. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  2. Leverage Adversity to Grow & Challenge. Don’t rush to judgment in response to problems, mistakes, or other adversity. Assume positive intent. Respect the person and critique the process or behavior. Ask open-ended questions and assess what’s been learned. Challenge yourself and your colleagues to grow in response to perceived mistakes or failure. Offer to help in pursuit of a better way. Hold each other accountable while maintaining the dignity of your colleagues.
  3. Consider Other Perspectives. Consider a problem you face or decision you need to make. Take the time to reassess from the perspective of others. Ask good questions and repeat what you learn. Just like a golfer takes the time to line up a putt from both sides of the hole, look at the problem or decision from other sides. If this reflection reveals new understanding, share what you’ve learned with dissenting colleagues (even if your decision does not change).

Empathy is not the act of endorsing another’s perspective. Rather, it is actively striving to understand another’s perspective. Practice empathy at work and at home. Listen to understand and CEEK a Better Way®.