4 Reasons Empathy is a Leadership Superpower
Updated: Apr 28
Being a leader means something a little different to everyone, whether it’s making important decisions, or directing a team of smart individuals who can make your dream a working reality.
There’s one thing that all good leaders have, though, a super power so to speak: empathy.
What Does Empathy Have
To Do With Leadership?
Empathy is the ability to feel and imagine what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes, and to share those feelings. But what does being able to share others’ feelings have to do with leadership? After all, aren’t leaders decisive visionaries who keep the ship afloat when everyone else needs direction?
Sort of. As with anything human, though, there’s more to it than that.
Empathy allows us to interact with the world around us in a unique way. It gives us a way to meaningfully interact with others, both at work and in our personal lives. It gives us a new perspective when we communicate with our team members - one that we don’t get when we’re always goal-oriented.
Empathy also gives us a perhaps unexpected (and delightful) rush of creativity. How better to come up with creative ideas different from your own than to listen to others and think like they think?
4 Reasons Leaders Need Empathy
As much as empathy is a nice concept, there still seems to be a lingering assumption that business is separate from emotion - it’s not about how we feel, but how we perform. It’s about the “smart” thing, the logical thing, the thing that’s best for the business, which doesn’t always equate to putting people first. How can you continue to run a business if you don’t focus on the goals and metrics that make it possible to keep paying the fabulous people who work for you?
Business is about finances and goals, but mostly it’s about people. And people need empathetic leaders.
1. Leaders lead people first, not robots or a homogeneous “team.” You can have the best idea or technology in the world, but you’re going zero places without other people to help you and make your vision a reality. As a leader, whether that’s in a business or community setting, empathy is non-negotiable because you’re leading people: real live humans with emotions and lives outside of their work with you.
While your team members are on your team, they all bring unique and powerful strengths to the table - otherwise you wouldn’t be working with them, right? As a leader, you have to be able to see the people first, not “the team” or “workers” but individuals.
2. Leaders have a huge influence on employee lives. Chances are, if you’re a leader in your business or organization, you spend a lot of time with the same people. You have meetings with them, learn from them, read reports from them, and hopefully have some good conversations with them as people, too. Spending so much time thinking about the same business, and oftentimes the same values and objectives, means that you have a large influence on other lives just like they influence you. After all, can you imagine spending 40-50 hours per week working with a team and not being influenced by them? Probably not!
When you’re with people for so much time in so many different settings, empathy is a must. You don’t know what else may be going on outside of the time you spend with them. You don’t know if someone who’s been putting in a lot of extra hours is avoiding a terrible home situation, or if someone who’s on the phone multiple times a day when you walk by is desperately trying to find a babysitter they trust. Anything is possible. As a leader, you have the ability to choose how you react, and since you work with people, that reaction should be one of empathy.
3. Empathy creates meaningful employee buy-in, which means better work & better results.
Have you ever been in a job you didn’t mind, but you hated the leadership style? Or a job you hated but the leadership made it worth sticking around to see if things would get better in the next couple of months? If not, you’re probably one of the few. As a leader, empathy is powerful not just because it humanizes you and makes you approachable, but also because it creates employee buy-in.
When employees feel appreciated and important, the work is better because the people who are producing it care about what they’re doing. They want to do good work because they believe in what they’re doing, so they work harder and/or more creatively to figure things out. When employees don’t care, or don’t feel valued, they aren’t likely to put in the extra effort. Creating a creative and collaborative atmosphere in an organization starts with empathetic leadership.
4. Business is better when you focus on human connection.
People underestimate the power of human connection in many situations, but especially in business. Why? Probably because for a long time, it was less personal. It was enough to look at numbers and see what people liked and didn’t - what trends might be coming up and what was going away. Technology has created a business world where things change at the speed of lightning, though. If you don’t have good human connections who are willing to help you pivot when things change, you won’t succeed.
When you lead with empathy, though, people will be more likely to help you because they’re excited to be a part of something new and exciting. You’ve already made them feel heard and valued, so they’re willing to help you through growing pains. Empathy creates innovation because it allows you, as the leader, to believe in and value the brilliant individuals on your team for what they bring to the table. This often means better and/or more effective solutions to the problem than you could have ever thought of yourself. At the end of the day, you need your people more than they need you, so it’s important to make sure they feel heard, seen, and supported.
Empathy has always been a strength, although that hasn’t always been the immediate perception of it. It’s not that leaders don’t make hard decisions, or that they need to let everyone else’s opinions overtake their own vision - after all, if you’re a leader, it’s your job to be able to see the bigger picture and guide your organization toward it as best you can.
But, it’s also your job to make sure the people helping create the big picture are heard. We’re all human first, which means you never quite know when or where the next brilliant idea will come from. It could be from another leader, or it could be from a janitor. Or an IT person. Or a receptionist.
If you don’t lead with empathy, there’s a huge risk you’ll miss amazing opportunities. Not to mention that you’ll lose your best team members to a company who is empathetic. It’s time to embrace and harness your empathy superpower. You’ll be surprised how much good you can do.
More About The Featured Author: Rachel Tindall is a Writer and Writing Coach at Capturing Your Confidence. Her lifelong love of learning inspired her to pursue education in writing, as well as teaching.
Throughout her years of teaching at the university and community college levels, she has developed a strong desire to continue to be the best learner and educator she can be – a coach. Rachel uses intentional motivation and empowerment to facilitate growth for driven writers and creatives on their journey to becoming unstoppable dream-getters. Building confidence in her colleagues and students is at the heart of all she does.