The servant leader knows empathy is one of the twelve characteristics of servant leadership.

Obviously, when leading from the heart, as is the intent of a serving leader, one has to exercise extreme patience, compassion, and understanding in their day-to-day interaction with others.

Be that as it may, just how empathetic should one be in their daily efforts of making a difference in the lives of those whom they are leading?

How much empathy is necessary from a servant leader?

Until I was asked these questions by an interviewing school principal, I admit I had not given much thought to this important characteristic.

Servant Leader Skills

Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with, or vicarious experiencing of, the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. In other words, the feelings or attitudes felt within one’s self when considering the feelings, thoughts, attitudes, or expressions of heartfelt concern over an issue that is causing intrinsic anxiety, apprehension or worry in another person.

Leadership is a responsibility that requires a tremendous amount of time and effort in dealing with people as they carry out their day to day tasks.

Leadership today requires more than just expecting the necessary performances of employees to meet company missions and goals.

Larry Spears, in his Focus on Leadership: “Servant Leadership for the 21st Century, points out that there is a new leadership paradigm, a new moral principle that requires a new leadership model for successfully leading people to higher levels of success in the organization.”

Spears also writes that there is a new “Moral Principle” that says, “The only authority deserving one’s allegiance is given freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader.”

This allegiance is strengthened when employees see in leadership a clearly evident “servant stature” of the leader.

In other words, a caring and empathetic attitude emanating from leadership that creates a level of trust and loyalty not obtained under the old paradigm of leadership.

This type of leadership as a model is based on teamwork and community building techniques.

It seeks to involve others in the decision making process and empowers employees to make a decision in their daily job that promotes organizational success for the good of the organization.

Empathetic Leadership

Servant Leadership is empathetic Leadership that is based on an ethical and caring behavior toward employees that enhances their personal growth.

This creates a trusting belief that the leader is intrinsically concerned about the welfare of others.

Just how far does a servant leader go to create this level of trust? Is it more important than the organizational vision of expansion and higher levels of profits?

Evidence is beginning to emerge that indicates empathetic leaders contribute more to the bottom line than the old paradigm of leadership.

People will tell you, “I don’t care how much you know, show me how much you care.”

Related:  Servant Leadership - Whole Person Inventory

The premier leader of all time tell us that when someone asks you go with them a mile, you should go with them two miles. Empathetic leaders “go the extra mile” in their leadership to instill a high level of trust from those under their charge.

Leaders can instill this level of empathy in four ways:

1. Lead from a Value Based, Principle Centered Position of Moral Authority

Do the right thing with employees, empower them to make sound personal and organizational decisions.

Lead from a set of consistent standards of performance, yet allowing for some flexible boundaries for personal growth. Delegate tasks, share power, while creating a culture of accountability.

Maintain your personal integrity.

2. Operate from a High Level of Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Be aware of your own level of empathy, transparency, and service orientation. Develop empathetic leaders who will in turn develop other empathetic leaders.

Be an agent of change for personal growth in yourself and in the well-being of others.

3. Become an Empathetic Listener

Seek to identify the internal “will” of other’s conversations. Be receptive to what “is” being said, as well as what “is not” being said, seeking to understand what the person’s spirit and mind is saying.

Observe what the non-verbal signals are sending as well as with the words that are spoken.

Treat everyone like a 10. Empathetic leaders treat everyone from the same value-based standard, exhibiting a deep-seated belief that everyone has intrinsic and extrinsic value.

Empathetic leadership exhibits a strong commitment to the personal growth of everyone – provide professional development; listen to suggestions, reflect on their value and incorporate where appropriate.

4. Make Employees your “Number 1” Priority

put people first in your leadership. Lead from your heart, with compassion as you help others meet their highest priority development needs.

Empathetic leaders desire to “serve first”, demonstrating a personal calling in the interest of others.

How far will you go to lead others? Each leader must answer that question for themselves. For me,  it is going the extra miles when required, to enhance their lives. Instead of giving up on someone, attempt to improve them.

You will see the difference you made and, more importantly, you will feel the intrinsic reward from your empathetic leadership efforts.

How Empathetic Should You Be?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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David McCuistion
David is a retired Naval Officer with extensive leadership and management experience including Officer-in-Charge of a major communication facility, in secondary education teaching leadership, and over five years public speaking on Servant Leadership and organizational development topics.
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