Increasing and Showing Empathy

Empathy is an important trait for leaders to have, important enough that it is one of the competencies on the LEA 360, the survey that I use. It was one of the things that drew me to becoming certified in this survey. Empathy is dismissed in the work world, but is key for leaders be able to have and express. In fact, a recent Towers Perrin survey of 90,000 worldwide employees featured and summarized by my friend Steve Roesler, showed that the #1 thing that employees want at work is to believe that senior managerment cares about them.

Leaders may find empathy to be one of the most difficult competencies to increase, and I have had my share of clients who could use a little (or more) dose of empathy. These leaders are often the ones who have hit a brick wall with their leadership – they know how to get the work done, but they are pushing too hard uphill. Often technically brilliant, some of them have been able to thrive by being visionary, goal oriented, loyal, and driven. But at some point in their career,a lack of empathy (and often other interpersonal skills) catches up to them.

I like what the resource guide for the LEA 360 has to say about some of the ways to increase empathy:

  • Draw on your own past experiences. We all use empathy in different parts of our life. Learning to transfer this empathy to your work setting may help.
  • Make it personal. Put yourself in other’s shoes and show an active – and real – concern, while rising above your private agenda and entering their world.
  • Volunteer. Find an activity where you can volunteer to work with those in need.
  • Show up and chat with the people in your organization – especially if you are a senior leader, and they are several levels below your level in the organization.
  • Understand the pressure and emotional risks people in your organization face every day (i.e., salespeople getting the door slammed in their faces).  Provide them with support.
  • Ask people how they want to be supported.

And one of my own: some of my clients have found that deep listening (the “Level III” kind: listening beyond the words, intuiting, observing body language and emotions) can really help to increase understanding and empathy.

What has worked for you?

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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