Caring About Someone You Can’t See-Empathy in Leadership

A couple of weeks back a friend of mine posted an article from Forbes. It was titled Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According to Research. The first thought that came to mind was am I empathetic? What is the exact definition? In my quest for knowledge on the topic, I loved what Brene Brown shares in her book Atlas of The Heart, “We need to dispel the myth that empathy is ‘walking in someone else’s shoes. ‘ Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you even when it doesn’t match my experiences.”

A beautiful example of empathy in leadership is the glue that holds Horizon Point together, Mary Ila. My son was hospitalized a few months back dealing with behavioral challenges. As a first-time parent, no one quite prepares you for checking your 5-year-old in for a psychiatric stay. Much less having to check in through your local ER and trying to entertain them for 3 days while a bed opens up (some parents wait weeks). To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. However, when it came to my job, it was the last thing that I was concerned about. Mary Ila told me not to worry about a thing and that our team would handle it. She even scheduled time to sit with my child for a few hours on her busy Monday morning. I politely declined her first offer, and she insisted that I go take a shower or anything else that I might need to do. 

All in all, that experience makes me want to work that much harder for a company that goes above and beyond for its employees. You see, Mary Ila put herself in my position and treated me as a human being rather than a human doing. I felt safe and cared for, and won’t forget to pass that kindness along to the next person walking through their season of suffering. 

Great, you might say, but what does that look like in a result—driven work environment? Do I need another degree these days to be a mental health professional in order to run a business? How does that help our bottom line? Empathy leads to trust, which leads to better performance, retention, and recruitment. All that is required is the extra effort to listen and understand. 

So, what if I’m not naturally empathetic? Can I learn it? In fact, you can. One of the best ways to learn is empathy is to have the ability to express it. Your emotional vocabulary list helps with this Want more? Try this exercise from Psychology Today to brush up on your skills:

  1. Think about your significant other or a friend, family member, or coworker.
  2. What has their mood been like recently?
  3. What’s going on in this person’s life that might be making them happy or sad, anxious, or angry?
  4. How are you contributing?
  5. What could you do or say to improve this person’s situation?

Empathy could very well be one of the necessary ingredients missing from the secret sauce to your overall workplace well-being. 

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Emily Collins