A good leader is served well when they have a strong sense of empathy towards others. Empathy is everything in leadership; without it, there is no true understanding and without understanding, there is a failure in leadership. 

Trusting partnerships, stronger family ties, and better working relationships come when both parties have empathy for each other. 

What empathy is and what it is not

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and share their thoughts, feelings, and motivation.  It’s not a requirement that you’ve actually experienced what the person is going through or the situation behind the difference between you and them.  It’s more about being able to put yourself mentally in their shoes to understand the emotional state of the other person. 

Strong empathy does require for you to have a good grasp of your own emotions and self-awareness. You’ve got to know yourself before you can fully understand others. 

Empathy is not an all-loving, non-confrontational person that just wants everyone to be happy and joyous. You must understand the other person and let that understanding help in your leadership and decision-making process. You still have to lead and you are still going to make decisions that don’t make everyone happy.  Having great empathy helps you make better decisions. 

Three types of empathy

Your empathy can be broken down into three different aspects of thought, emotion, and action. 

Cognitive Empathy (Thought) focuses on the ability to have an understanding of how the other person is feeling or what they are thinking at the moment. It’s understanding the reasoning behind their thought process. Having a strong sense of cognitive empathy helps you communicate with others in a meaningful way that reaches them right where they are. 

Emotional Empathy is truly connecting with the emotions that the other person is going through.  It’s the burden or pain you feel for others in a tough spot. Your ability to cry or tear up for a character in a film, show or play is due to your emotional empathy in that person. 

Compassionate Empathy (Action) pushes you towards action in these scenarios. The tug of the heart to do something to help the other person is a result of this. Compassionate empathy is also what drives better decision making in good leaders. 

Putting it all together

We are going to use the example of a co-worker going through the loss of a loved one.  A person with little or no empathy skills will shy away from connecting with the person. You may feel that giving the other person space is what they need when in reality it’s an excuse that you give yourself in order to not have to deal with the issue. 

You may feel sympathy for the person. You feel sorry for the person going through the tough time or maybe you’re even a little sad that they are sad. 

Empathy takes the connection deeper than sympathy. Your cognitive empathy helps you understand what’s going on in the other person’s mind. How close was the person to them? How does this impact their daily life? What responsibilities are they suddenly having to carry? 

See? We are already more complex than sympathy. The other two parts of empathy carry it even further. 

With emotional empathy, you connect with the emotional toll that the person is going through and understand how it may change their behavior and decision-making ability. You connect with the heartache that they are experiencing. 

Finally, compassionate empathy pushes you to act and help your colleague. This is where you change to assist the other person. It could be taking on their workload so they can step away, bringing them a meal, or being there for them outside of work. Compassionate empathy makes you do something about the situation where sympathy does not. 

Think about your empathy level with others as you go through your daily routine this week.  Next week we will cover practical tips on how to strengthen your empathy towards others. 

Make a better tomorrow.