One of the repeating themes I heard this year at the Global Leadership Summit was around the importance of empathy for leaders. This is definitely not something that is frequently discussed in leadership round tables, but hearing several presenters who spoke directly to it really impressed on me how important this skill is.

NOTE: Please hear this – empathy is a skill that I am ACTIVELY working to develop in my own life and leadership. As an Enneagram 5 / ISTJ / DISC C, this is not a natural giving for me. But it can be developed and improved – it just takes intentional and focused effort. I tell you this so that 1) you won’t think I’ve arrived on this (not even close), and 2) if you are not naturally gifted in this way, be encouraged! You can work on this just like I am.

Jon Acuff touched on this toward the end of his talk:

  • Empathy is understanding what someone needs and acting on it
  • It’s when you choose to care about what the people you care about care about.
  • It’s especially appreciated in crisis – crisis magnifies kindness
  • Think about your life – what do the people you care about care about?
  • You will get out of touch as a leader if you don’t listen to people’s needs.
  • 6 word formula for empathy: Read less minds, ask more questions.
  • When you ask someone what they need, they become visible and valuable.
  • Everyone wants to know: Do you see me? Do I matter?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. (President and CEO of SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management) spoke extensively about this as well:

  • The pandemic has given all of us an opportunity to rethink and reset the way we see the world and experience the world of work. We have for so long focused on productivity. And while productivity is extremely important, human beings are not robots.
  • It’s one thing to say you value people. Words are cheap. Actions speak.
  • We have a real empathy problem in our world. We have had a rise in apathy and a decline in empathy. Our public trust is broken.
  • With isolation from COVID and sharp political divisions, we have an empathy deficit.
  • People are unseen, unheard, and unconnected.
  • To show empathy, we need to engage in discussions, not debates.
  • Empathy is a muscle.
  • Getting in the last word or winning an argument loses the relationship.
  • Great leaders listen extremely well.
  • Sympathy is nice, but ultimately empathetic leadership is going to be the number one cultural value for every successful organization across national borders and industries.
  • Showing empathy means embracing diversity and seeing how much we have in common with one another.
  • You must meet people where they are, and understand how they got there, before you can help them get to where they need to go.
  • Empathy means we must be kinder.

This is an area where I have much work to do. I don’t think I’m alone. Let’s get to it.

Is this an area you struggle with? What are you doing to intentionally become more empathic with those you lead?


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