Lead With Empathy

I think that we are in trouble. Let me explain.


A friend was telling me a story the other day. She works in a store that is going out of business and she is amazed by the behavior that she witnesses daily. There are a number of announcements made when they are getting ready to close for the day, and as you can imagine, the workers in the store are looking forward to going home.


She reports that consistently, numerous shoppers will get in line at the very last minute before the doors are locked, with 30 items in tow. This means that they won’t get out of the store usually for another hour.


She finds this frustrating, rude and people don’t seem to even give this unkind behavior a second thought. Sadly, I don’t find it surprising in the least.


In order to take part in this behavior, you have to be focused on your own needs. You need to believe that your needs are more important than some stranger working late in the store. The moment you give thought as to what that other person might be experiencing, and imagine their feelings in the situation, your behavior would probably change.


It’s called EMPATHY and there seems to be an absence of it lately.


Now the reason that this doesn’t surprise me is because I’ve done some research on the subject. I became concerned about this lack of empathy watching people interact around me. Research done from 1979 to 2009 shows that “empathic concern” has declined by 48% and there was a steep decline from 2000 to 2009. The authors speculate that narcissism, prevalence of personal technology, media use in everyday life, shrinking family size and pressures on young people to succeed has contributed to this decline.


A baby is born with the genetic component to feel empathy. When you witness what happens to others, it activates your visual cortex and activates your emotions. In short, you have mirror neurons in your brain that overlap with other people’s actions-if your friend picks a flower, that part of your brain mirrors that. These neurons help you become more empathic toward others.


Empathy is the glue that holds societies together. It helps us thrive and grow in our communities. Then what’s the problem here? Research has shown that you are wired to feel more empathy toward people that resemble and look like you. This biological underpinning enabled us to stay alive many years ago. Today, it negatively impacts us and adds to our division in our communities.


This is in no way an excuse for why we do the things we do. As humans, we are capable of higher-level thinking and not leading with our instinctual response. And as humans, we are able to insist on social norms in our communities that reflect respect of others.


As a leader, there are things that you can do to positively impact this need for empathy. Insist on social norms that encourage empathy and kindness toward others. Model curiosity about others and listen to their stories. The more you understand individuals that are different from you, the more chance that the feeling of empathy will lead to changed behavior and a better community.



Walk a Mile

image-footstepsEmpathy– the ability to emotionally understand what another person is feeling.


The last week has been tough. Wherever you look, people’s emotions are on edge due to the recent election. People have taken sides and each group is having difficulty understanding the motives and reactions of the other group. Some people are elated, while others are feeling a multitude of things: disappointment, fear, anger and grief.


Being trained in Mental Health, I spend every waking hour observing others. It’s just something that I do instinctively. I don’t necessarily engage in feelings— I just observe from afar and try to understand why and how people are responding.


Friday, I met with a connection that told me she had spent time guiding a company on how to handle a physical fight between two workers on opposite sides of the political argument. Yes, people are on edge everywhere you look and that emotion inevitably seeps into our workplace.


There is a lack of empathy in much of our communication. I observe individuals demonstrating their own personal values, beliefs and attitudes about life. The problem is that they also expect others to adhere to those same values, beliefs and worldviews. Following last week, there appears to be a lack of understanding—

We have trouble making room for human differences and the inability to see that individuals don’t necessarily fit into neatly defined categories.


What I do see is a strong compelling need to demonstrate WHY I am right and I have the right way of thinking.


Nowhere is this more evident than on Social Media. Here, you see a total lack of empathy and a complete lack of the ability to imagine how others feel. You see individuals pushing their belief system on others while refusing to listen. You witness people expecting others to see things their way, and if they don’t, they are attacked. You observe people feeling the need to rationalize their beliefs and expecting others to support them— or else. Polarized thinking is rampant and stirs up anger, hate and decisiveness.


You see a whole lot of JUDGEMENT but very little empathy.


As humans, we are a complicated species. Each one of us has a worldview made up of values, attitudes and beliefs based on our many life experiences. You won’t understand me unless you actively listen, without judgment, to where I am coming from and what I feel. I won’t understand you unless I actively listen, without judgment, to where you are coming from and what you feel.


Until this happens, we won’t have successful communication and understanding propecia dosage.


So how do you ensure that EMPATHY is part of your Leadership toolkit?

You become more Empathetic by practicing these skills daily.


  1. Use your energy to actively listen to others and understand how they are feeling.
  2. Refrain from minimizing others’ feelings and rationalizing about your own feelings.
  3. Hold yourself back from making judgments about others that think differently than you. Just meet them where they are.


Remember during this time that empathy is the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Truly live up to this standard.





images empathyWhile doing some research for an upcoming workshop, I suddenly remembered a work incident from many years ago. Picture this: I’m sitting at a meeting with my managers and discussing some drastic changes that were about to majorly impact each one of them.  A few of the changes would be positive but the majority of them would be negative. Frankly, these changes were hard to swallow and I was facing an uphill battle in this room.


At the time, I was young and I was managing on pure instinct. I hadn’t read any books and I certainly didn’t have the experiences and knowledge about implementing change that I have today.  However, I did have one skill that served me well in this situation— empathy.


I listened patiently to their whining and complaining.  Did I agree with their complaints? Sometimes. However, I knew that wasn’t the point.  I sensed that they needed to voice their feelings, fears and doubts before they could move on.  I had a strategy to get them on board and I knew that forcing them to move forward without listening to their concerns would never work.


How did I know? Because I asked myself— would it work with me?  How would I feel? What would I need to move on from that place and accept the changes?


First, I would need someone to validate my concerns and show understanding.


In business, we don’t all see eye to eye on developing soft skills, such as empathy. The concept just seems way too abstract to be taken seriously in the workplace. But the ability to relate to people, to understand and sense how they’re feeling, is pivotal to every leader’s influence. The ability to put yourself in other’s shoes and imagine what they’re thinking and feeling is crucial to your success as a leader.


That doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything that’s being said because…you wont.  It does mean, however, that you need to be able to nonjudgmentally listen, with appropriate non-verbal communication that displays an acceptance of their feelings and needs. This is how respect and trust is earned, and believe me—

Influence will follow.


It doesn’t matter if you spend your days managing a team/company or trying to close deals for your growing business. Empathy, a necessary ingredient to having resilience, is key to you paving your way to your goals.


Your workdays are busy and you have a lot to accomplish.  Sometimes, you can become too self-focused and stuck inside your own head, busy considering the many things that YOU need to complete. You can spend a lot of time looking inward and focusing on your own goals instead of looking outward. However, having empathy enables you, a leader, to sense the temperature of your surroundings— a necessary skill in your arsenal. Your ability to put aside your own goals for a few minutes, reach out with empathy and listen to what others need to succeed in their jobs can ultimately decide your path in life.