How to Lead With Empathy

By Jon Isaacson

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

In all of the various words expended on business, entrepreneurship, and leadership, there are few that discuss the role of empathy as a key to the development of emotional intelligence.

Feelings are a component of life. But they are often treated as though they have no place in a professional organization and are of no concern for the successful leader.

The truth is that most people in leadership positions make decisions based on feelings, whether they are willing to admit that or not.

A recent study entitled Only Human, conducted by Gyro, surveyed 720 senior business executives and noted that “A majority (61%) of executives agree that when making decisions, human insights must precede hard analytics.” Life is theater, business is full of drama, and people are sensitive.

So how do modern leaders elevate their emotional intelligence to address these realities in an organizational environment, especially if they are working to flatten out the organizational chart?

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is what separates emotionally intelligent leaders from managerial programmed robots who follow a passionless script.

Consideration and Engagement

Consider engagement equity in the ability to understand what someone is feeling, to comprehend the perspective of another human, and engage with them, whether you agree or disagree with their conclusions.

Consideration for others’ feelings, compassion for their trials as humans, and caring when addressing sensitive issues at work are essential soft skills that can elevate a leader to inspire others to buy in to the organizational vision.

We know, in principle, that empathy is a form of understanding. So we should understand what empathy is as well as what it isn’t.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is listening to others, attempting to see things from their perspective, and making leadership decisions based upon a fuller engagement with team members who can help in accomplishing the mission.

Empathy is a skill that must be developed as an essential component in the tool belt of emotional intelligence. This can assist a leader to more successfully work through periods of resistance while working with other individuals.

Empathy is not capitulation. Listening and understanding do not mean that a leader changes course simply because there are an individual(s) who respond negatively to directions and changes within the organization.

Empathy is not appeasement. Acquiring perspective does not mean that a leader will seek the path of least resistance by sacrificing long-term success for short-term peace acquired by cowering to demands.


Employees, co-workers, and business partners come in all emotional shapes, sizes, and shades of complexity. Developing soft leadership skills and emotional intelligence is a process that requires consistent intentionality, which often includes making a fair share of mistakes.

The beautiful side to humanizing the organizational process is that where empathy is practiced and modeled by leadership, it is more likely to be reflected in the interactions throughout the team. When leaders listen, empathize, and demonstrate a hunger to ever improve themselves, they tend to attract team members with the same values who will assist them in building an organization of vision.

As noted, empathy does not make a leader a doormat who capitulates to negative forces. Conflict resolution by temporary appeasement in the face of resistance is the opposite of emotional intelligence.

Leaders who listen so that they can understand their teams will unlock the resources that may be hiding within their organization that would otherwise remain hidden under the misguided actions of cut-and-paste management principles.

Step out of your comfort zone, make some smart mistakes, build a thriving team and be the leader that your team deserves. If you are resistant to change as well as growing as a leader, you will continue to attract and manage the team that you deserve.

How Do You Lead With Empathy?

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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Jon Isaacson
Jon Isaacson
Jon Isaacson is an entrepreneur who is a friend to facilities and risk professionals, partnering to enhance education, networking, and assisting with recovery when the worst of it all hits the fan. In addition to working full time, raising a family and volunteering, Jon writes, speaks and serves as director of local facilities networking group LFMC.
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