The Power of EQ

Empathic Leadership

Empathic Leadership

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Theodore Roosevelt


By Corporate Coach, Michael Steele

In today’s workplace, leadership takes on many different roles, and each one requires gaining the trust of your employees. This happens most effectively when leaders listen and show genuine care for their team. Leadership is 2 parts listening, and 1 part speaking. By listening and hearing others’ perspectives, the empathic leader is creating a safe environment for employees to share ideas and build trust. As a leader, are you actively working toward that role of trusted advisor? A positive workspace will create improved employee moral and retention, fewer mistakes, increased revenues and profits. However, there are always rules in the workplace, and enforcing the rules is often a test of leadership.

Joe’s Story
Joe has been a top employee for the past 4 months, on-time, and a great teammate. However, he has been tardy quite a bit, and was put on probation for his numerous offenses. He is due to be off probation in 45 days, but one more tardy and he will be over the line. This morning, he calls in and says he has a flat tire and will be 30 minutes late.

This is a situation that seems cut and dry, and should be an easy managerial decision. The rules are the rules, and as a manager operating by the book, Joe should be gone. But, of course, Joe explains to his manager that he actually left very early, had the flat, and has a receipt to show for it. The fact that he was only 30 minutes late despite a flat, indicates he would have been early to work.

“I can see you are in a tough spot,” said the manager, Robert.  “What do you want me to do?  You understood where you stood.”

Joe understood he was wrong in putting himself in this position by using all his freebies, and offered an alternative solution to being fired. He asked if he could take on an extra assignment or be suspended for 2 days.

As his manager, Robert says, “I can appreciate where you are coming from and the fact that you are taking this infraction in a serious manner. I have to go to HR with the infraction papers, and will state your case and see if there is an exception available. There are no promises.”

Empathy is about taking on another persons perspective.
How did Robert handle the situation? Did he do the right thing by taking Joe’s case to HR? What about the other workers? How will they feel?  Did Robert gain respect of the team by listening to Joe and trying to support him and save his job?

How about Joe? Was it important that he understood that consequences were required?

Old-school or Empathy?
This is a classic case to compare “old school” by the book management thinking vs the empathetic leadership concept that is prevalent today. Old school management might look at this situation with Joe as an opportunity to set an example, to keep everyone in line, and show that management is in charge. This is the “Management-by-fear” way of doing business.

In today’s work environment, top organizations are not run by fear. The best companies have strong leadership, but they know and grow from the bottom up, and management works at listening to input from their people on the front line. The goal is success for all in the organization. As a manager, Robert was not pleased with the infraction, but took the time to listen and try to understand. It is not an easy road being an empathetic leader, but the results are often worth the effort.

Empathic leaders use all the tools at their disposal. Dr. Daniel Goleman states in the Harvard Business Review; “Leaders with empathy use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle but important ways.” This doesn’t mean that they agree with everyone’s view or try to please everybody. Rather, they “thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings, along with other factors in the process of making intelligent decisions.”

How about you?  Are you ready to take someone else perspective today and work to become the empathic leader?  It is not easy, but you are the person for the job because you care.


Michael Steele has used his basketball coaching experience to create winning teams in business and finance. He offers a unique perspective to business leaders and team members looking for the “win.” Click here for more info on Michael.