Lessons for Leaders 19: Leading with Empathy

Jun 5, 2020 | Lessons for Leaders

Leading with Empathy

Now more than ever before, empathy is important.  Leading teams who are coping with huge challenges at work, at home with friends, family colleagues- we are all learning to cope in different ways.  Some are dealing with illness and loss.

Now more than ever before, empathy is important.  Leading teams who are coping with huge challenges at work, at home with friends, family colleagues- we are all learning to cope in different ways.  Some are dealing with illness and loss.

As lockdown reduces and more people are being unfurloughed or beginning the stages of going back to work, schools going back, shops beginning to open, there are, understandably more uncertainty and anxiety surrounding what the ‘new normal’ will look like. 

Being able to show empathy and that true understanding can bring huge benefits to a workplace and culture.

According to Business Solver’s 2019 “State of Workplace Empathy” study, 90% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathic employer, and 87% of CEOs believe empathy is linked to financial performance.

Empathy has many benefits. First, it feels really good. The pleasure centres of the brain light up when we are empathically heard and understood. It reduces stress and fosters resilience, creates more trust, promotes healing.

What do we mean by empathy?

Quite simply, it’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

How can we be more empathic?

I’m nice to people – isn’t that enough?  No, not really.  Sorry to be blunt!  Empathic leading needs greater depth than just being nice.  It needs you to be consistently demonstrating an awareness of feelings and emotions of other people.  It’s as if you’re feeling for yourself, so you’re able to imagine standing in their shoes.

Now, there’s a caveat here.  You don’t have to jump into their shoes – or as I like to explain – you don’t need to get into their pit of doom.  You need to stay on the sidelines so that you can help them get out of that pit of doom, but you need to IMAGINE what it must be like.

Four Key Ways to be more Empathic


Listening is one of the most effective ways you can demonstrate empathy to other people. In the high speed world on online tech we spend less time listening to one another.  Sending texts, emails etc doesn’t need listening.  It doesn’t use our ears, it uses our eyes.  Start using your ears.  Listen to understand rather than listening to respond.


Stop talking and avoid interrupting.  I know you’re busy.  But whatever this person is coming to you with is important to them.  Give it the time and respect. 

Also don’t judge.  If you’re judging that person, you’re not stepping into their shoes, you’re staying in your shoes and looking at them.  You don’t have to agree with them or align with their actions or values, you just have to listen and understand their perspective. 

Also be OK with silence.  Silence is really powerful and help the other person focus their thoughts, align them and allows their brain to process.  So stop filling the gaps or second guessing. 

Open Up

Just listening to someone isn’t going to build a bridge between the two of you. When working on camera, allow people to see you face.  It helps for better connections and enables you and them to see virtual clues.  I’m doing this so much more now on my online training and webinars and encouraging others to put their camera on and connect with proper eye contact.

Focus Outwards

Focus your attention outwards. So focus more on the other person than yourself.  You might be busy, have a ton of things to do, but if this person has called, text, messaged or opened up on a video call.  Then stop everything else and focus on them.    Nod, smile, look interested. 

You only have to do this for a short period of time to get amazing results.  Remember what I said about this lighting up part of the brain and reducing stress, promoting resilience, creating more trust, promotes healing.

Carrying out these four key areas will enable you to have supportive conversations with your teams. 

Riess says that having an empathic leader “energizes a team, makes them want to come to work, and makes people feel like they’re all in it for the good of the company or the good of the mission.”

Ensuring empathic leadership means an improvement in employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Whilst I recognise that all employees need to return to work or the workplace now that things are opening up, being supportive around anxieties, worries and concerns will be more beneficial in the long run, rather than leaving you dealing with sickness, absence, presenteeism or even attrition. 

Pick one area that you want to improve on and or try a new approach with a colleague or member of your team.

Increasingly I’ve been working with a number of organisations to successfully deliver virtual trainings on stress management, resilience, work-life balance, boundaries and more – so contact me to discuss the needs of your organisation now or book direct into my diary for a complementary discussion.

Alternatively you can email me to discuss working with you or your workforce on emma@emmalangton.com 

Finally, if you enjoyed this podcast, please do go and leave a review, it helps enormously for the podcast to be found by other people.

This post discusses: boundaries, coaching, covid19, empathy, leaders, leadership, resilience, stress, training, webinars, worklifebalance
Emma Langton

Emma Langton

Executive Leadership Coach

Emma hosts the Lessons for Leaders podcast. Each week she brings you lessons, learnings, tips and advice to enable you to lead with ease in business, without stress, doubt and overwhelm so that I help you to increase your performance, be resilient and thrive in life. Emma has been providing coaching, training and therapeutic support for executives since setting up her business in 2011. Prior to that she spent over 20 years with people at the top of national and multi-national training and communication businesses.


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