How to Develop Your Empathetic Leadership

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The golden rule, “treat others as you’d like to be treated,” did not survive the test of biology. The idea of sameness contradicts our innate maturation into selfhood and theory of mind. We do not exist in a vacuum – our complexities shape our experiences and, eventually, form our core themes and life lessons. Thus, we should allow the intricacies of another to direct our treatment toward them. Within empathetic leadership, you are specifically charged with acknowledging the value of difference and its impact on diversity and connection.

We all share comparable spiritual DNA, and yet the most precious gift you can offer your employees is their freedom of expression and experience, however strange, bizarre, or enlightening it is. With this practice of intentional care, you inspire authentic relationships that stand the test of conflict and change.

An intuitive leadership expert, Lisa Ike-Alvarez, will explore the four crucial empathy elements that are indispensable for effective, empathetic leadership.

Don’t miss this intriguing
webinar from HRDQ-U

Don’t miss this intriguing webinar from HRDQ-U

The Practice of Leadership Empathy within the Workplace

Four Components of Empathetic Leadership

Carl Rogers, a humanist psychologist, further describes the distancing of self to connect with another:

Being empathetic means, for the time being, you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense, it means that you lay aside yourself, and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in themself that they know that they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to their own world when they wish. Perhaps this description clarifies that being empathetic is a complex, demanding, strong yet subtle and gentle way of being.

From this evocative description, I have gathered four essential components that may help shape your empathic leadership approach.

Humility

Work team celebrating one member by clapping and smiling at them which shows humility

“Enter another’s world without prejudice . . .”

Humility involves recognizing and accepting your limitations of fully perceiving the world. As an empathetic leader, you are oftent challenged with understanding and managing the unique behaviors presented by your employees. In this way, it is easy to default to prejudices as you attempt to make sense of their unfamiliar projections. This act of simplifying their expression may show up in the following form: you regard your employee’s actions as disruptive or unprofessional.

On the contrary, their behavior may stem from a place of unknowing and/or insecurity about their ability to sustain their position. Regardless of the reason, it is your duty as an empathetic leader to suspend your personal views and enter into their dwelling. You are essentially borrowing their frame of reference and witnessing what is important to them: values, beliefs, and urges. It is only with this knowledge that you can extend help that actually helps. Your ability to hold their experience allows them to feel seen, heard, and understood—all antidotes for belonging and inclusion.

Courage

Diverse team working together in a meeting. A woman is at the front presenting

“For the time being, you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself . . .”

Courage within an empathy context requires non-attachment. It is having the courage to be wrong. Empathy invites you to let go of certainty – all that you think you know for the sake of learning something new and experiencing yourself through an altered reality. In our “expertise” era, accuracy is worn as a badge of honor, so we fear being imperfect and exposing our true design. This practice of perfection creates a high-tense and competitive work environment inundated with trepidation and a lack of creativity. Why would anyone want to express an idea in the future in case it fails? As an empathetic leader, you prioritize leading with authenticity vs. precision. You’re less concerned with hitting the bullseye and instead allow the unfolding of experience – learning, failing, growing, evolving – to lead the way into transition.

Self-Awareness

Woman self-reflecting while looking out at window

“The views and values you hold for yourself . . .”

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of empathic relations. You must know the “self” that is being used to join the other in experience. This self contains your assumptions, views, values, wants, and all else that makes you an individual. If your sense of self is unfamiliar, there is a high risk for emotional contagion – the lines between your emotions and those of others become blurred. This action causes you to lose objectivity and focus, making it difficult to provide effective support. Having a sense of self helps define boundaries, giving only within your capacity so you have space to ground yourself while serving your employees.

Confidence

Woman working at computer smiling with confidence

“This can only be done by a person who is secure enough in themself that they know that they will not get lost . . .”

Confidence in your values, needs, and wants ascertains your ability to return to your world when the needs of your employees are met. As you successfully tread the internal waters of your employees, you are still anchored to your possessions. You maintain and leverage your sense of individuality by becoming curious, asking questions from your angle, listening, noticing the tone, pace, and gesticulations of the other person that clarifies or belies their story, and tuning into your inner reactions. You use this personal data to inform you about the most appropriate and thoughtful response to move the experience of empathetic leadership forward.

Holding the Key to Empathetic Leadership

We can attest that empathetic leadership is no simple endeavor. Carl Rogers affirmed empathy is complex and demanding, requiring practice and discipline. It is also nuanced and a thoughtful way of being with. Your ability to internalize employee occurrences can create a future of work that celebrates the whole human experience. As leaders, you hold the key to empathy. Your willingness to unlock multiple truths can make way for employees to reclaim their wisdom, language, ancestry, and creative power.

Author
Headshot of Lisa Obianuju-Ike Alvarez
Lisa Obianuju-Ike Alvarez

Lisa Obianuju-Ike Alvarez is an educator, life coach, and group facilitator with ten years of training, counseling, and consulting experience. She is recognized for her unique approach to problem-solving and facilitating authentic and purposeful dialogue. She is a champion of and for the voices of the marginalized and possesses refined skills in helping individuals seek purpose from their daily regime.

As an intuitive leader, Lisa Is committed to helping individuals live and work with intention and challenge the self that prohibits appropriate risk-taking and completion of duty. She appreciates the shared journey of learning, exploring, and transforming with her clients.

Lisa holds a BA in psychology, an MA in counseling psychology, and a PsyD in organizational development. Her academic acquisitions and professional advancements illustrate her strive for people excellence and desire for lasting learning and change.

Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn.

Recommended Webinar
The Practice of Leadership Empathy within the Workplace

Learn how to foster empathy in leadership in your workplace to help you understand your employees and meet their needs with improved self-awareness.

How to Develop Your Empathetic Leadership
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