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Empathetic Leadership

Lia Fialho

As we embark on another year, we want to address the topic of empathetic leadership, and what it truly means to lead with empathy. If you are in a position of authority within your organization, it is important that you actively try to lead with empathy and employ empathetic practices in your day to day operations. Although it takes a lot of work, it will have a positive impact on you, your employees, and your organization. 

First, let’s look at what is meant when people say “empathetic leadership”. We are all familiar with the concept of empathy, but how is this applied to business? One way to define it is as follows , “Empathetic leadership is the ability to lead while understanding the contexts, experiences and needs of others, and being aware of their thoughts and feelings. It is the ability to live and experience the story of another as if it were our own.” Similar to empathy in general, leading with empathy requires you to be mindful of the experiences of those around you, and place yourself in a position to try and connect with, and understand, these experiences.

Leadership is about more than just power, delegation, and decisions. Understanding the people you work with and their unique lived experiences will help you to become a better leader. If you expect everyone in your working environment to have the same experiences and understanding of topics and practices, there will be a severe disconnect within your organization. 

Empathy in the workplace goes beyond just feeling sympathy for one of your employees when they are going through a difficult time, or faced with a difficult problem. When someone on your team comes to you with an issue, don’t just say “I’m sorry”. Instead actively listen while trying to imagine yourself in that situation. Think about how you would feel if you were in their shoes, and how you would like to be treated. This will help you to respond in a way that is rooted in empathy, instead of responding from a solely professional perspective. 

This style of leadership also goes beyond how you react to situations. It involves employing ethical and equitable business practices within your organization. This means providing adequate vacation time for employees, establishing flexible working hours that adhere to a balanced work life balance, and creating an environment where employees are comfortable addressing issues with you. Prioritize equity and inclusion into your structures so that the working environment is beneficial to everyone involved. If you make this a priority starting within your internal structures, it will make the transition into authentic empathetic leadership much simpler. 

Everyone is trying their best, but it has been a difficult past two years. Creating a positive work environment centered on kindness and respect will help to alleviate some of the stress your employees are facing on the daily. For more on small business and leadership, check out our Kuvio Blog

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