Understanding Empathy

It’s a cliché to say that you need empathy as a leader. It seems to go without saying that you should feel for those who are working under your care. In fact, it is almost trite to suggest that truly understanding empathy will make you a better leader. Trite, perhaps; but true.

Empathy is just too easy for leaders to say. It’s a simple word, packed with meaning, and easily overlooked. It’s great to say that you have regard for the feelings of others. Simple to say, but easily disproved depending on how you make your decisions. You can’t say you have empathy and then be shocked when your decisions lead to uproar.

It’s pretty basic logic. If you are astonished by the reaction, you didn’t fully understand the employees. In that moment, you lacked empathy. You haven’t lost the game yet.

Now’s your chance to get to the bottom of it. What is the basis for the emotional reaction and what can you do to solve the problem? Your employees are not being spoiled, you have simple made a mistake.

That’s where the empathy truly shines. When you are able to admit the misstep and make the changes necessary. It might even be as simple as finding a way to better explain your decision so everyone can be together. Understanding empathy means allowing space to affect and be affected by others.

It also means accepting the fact that you will not always be right. You are going to make mistakes. There is no such thing as saving face. If you truly have empathy, you will always analyze your decisions, before, during, and after they are made.

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