I was recently with a friend who is a good leader in his own right. We were talking about the leader that he reports to in the organizational structure of our mission. His comments were very positive and complimentary of his boss. When I heard him describe what made him so appealing it began with empathy.
Empathy is defined as “the action of being understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another.” My friend described that whenever he called his boss, there was always an orientation that began with a true understanding of what he was facing. It didn’t mean that he always agreed with my friend, nor did it mean that he acquiesced to my friend’s wishes. What it does mean is that this leader begins by listening and working hard to see things from the subordinate’s point of view. This is leadership empathy.
Honest empathy can create a very trusting environment and create a context for change. The subordinate feels cared for. The boss takes enough time to truly understand the situation and consider what unique advice or solution could be proposed. Maybe a change of perspective on the part of the subordinate is necessary. But to lead with correction rarely brings about lasting change or an environment of trust. Empathy requires slowing down to listen. It requires being on the other person’s agenda long enough to truly understand. It requires seeing circumstances from more than one perspective. More than anything it postures you as a leader as someone who others want to follow.
Do you lead with leadership empathy? Lead well.