3 Habits of Highly Empathetic Leaders

Empathetic Leadership

What do workers really want? Empathetic leaders.

Some may be surprised by this but it’s well-known that monetary incentives do little to motivate most people. Research shows that pay raises won’t turn your employees into productivity machines. In fact, giving creative people bonuses demotivates them and leads to poorer performance.

According to a 2018 study reported by CNBC, 60 percent of employees would take a pay cut to work for an “empathic organization.” Psychologists generally categorize empathic workplaces by supportive emotional connections, positive relationships, meaning, and purpose.

To the employees in the survey, certain displays of empathy matter more, including:

  • Offering flexible hours and work schedules to promote work-life balance
  • Understanding the need to take time off for family matters and caregiving
  • Creating a climate to talk about challenges
  • Recognizing achievements and milestones

So how can we utilize all of this in our organizations to keep employees happy and productive? It starts with first creating highly empathetic leaders.

Creating Highly Empathic Leaders

Empathy can be learned, says The Center for Creative Leadership. Here are a few ways you can up your EQ (your empathy quotient, that is) starting today:

Listen non-judgmentally

Use active listening skills to gain insight, including:

Reflecting: “What I’m hearing you say is…” or “It sounds to me like…”

Affirming: Smiling, nodding, or brief verbal affirmations like “I see” or “mmhmm”

Encouraging: “And then?”

Practice pausing

In an effort to be helpful, we often jump in to finish people’s sentences, offer advice, or interrupt. During a conversation, today, wait five seconds before responding. It’s uncomfortable, but you’ll be surprised by how effective it is to practice saying nothing at all. Silence can be very powerful.

Replace advice-giving with curiosity

Instead of offering your opinion, ask questions to better understand the other person’s perspective, like:

  • How do you feel about it?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • What do you mean?
  • What would be helpful?
  • What do you make of it?

If you’re a manager or leader, work on honing your emotional vocabulary so that you can become more adept at spotting and naming those emotions in other people. Self-awareness is the surest path to empathy for others.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


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