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MARCH 2024

A guide to Empathic Leadership &
How you can develop this skill.

Is empathy innate?

Empathy is generally described as the ability to take on another's perspective, to understand, feel and possibly share and respond to their experience. There are many nuances, implications and misunderstandings on the topic and despite its ancient name - the concept is only being more thoroughly researched as we speak. 


But very simply, if I tell you that my lovely dog Harriet is sick and has to go to the vet, when you understand what emotions I am going through as a result of her sickness. That’s empathy.  If you never cared for a dog, never had a pet, or don’t know how it feels to raise a tiny fur baby - you might not realise that she actually is my baby :-) And I prioritise her accordingly.

Perhaps you are not a fan of pets, so how about that example: If I tell you that I messed up and made a mistake in an email newsletter, and had to resend it yet again. And the shame or upset I might feel is clear to you, that’s also empathy. If you have never felt the pressure of hitting send to a 1.5k subscriber list - well, it’s probably harder to understand how I am feeling and why that experience might actually be a big thing for me.


And just for the avoidance of doubt, I believe that empathy is a good thing.


A very good thing in fact, and I believe it was created by mother nature for a reason. To form bonds, to connect us, and to keep us alive. All we have to do is keep this magical trait alive and wake it up without feeling that we have to be ‘strong’ all the time. 


Sounds simple, but why do some people have more empathy than others?


Empathy allows people to understand how another person might feel. Naturally, if we have experienced the same or a similar situation, it is easier to feel empathy because we have a reference point based on our own experience. Or if we come from a similar background, we can naturally empathize more with the struggles of people from a similar background. These are the ‘I know exactly what you mean’ - moments. Makes sense, right?


Now here lies the magic. 


If you would like to build your empathy muscle and develop empathic leadership skills in a world where your colleagues will be very diverse (hopefully) - go and seek exposure and connection from people that are different to you. It’s an amazing way to build understanding. Seek touch points, seek differences, and identify common ground. Being committed and open to build-up more touch points and personal connections and experiences from a broad range of experiences is key so we can ‘walk in their shoes’.


Personal interaction, travel, volunteering, eating different food etc - many many little things can help you naturally grow your level of understanding and empathy. And it is only a good thing. I don't believe there is ‘too much of empathy’. 


People that work in an international environment, cross-cultural teams etc will generally be able to develop empathy a bit better than people who work in a very homogenous environment. Again, even if you might work in a homogeneous environment - places like The Female Forum can help you to develop your understanding of various cultures, backgrounds and industries. That’s the entire point, to break out of our silos and continue to learn, grow and evolve as humans, as women, as leaders.


Empathy is a very very powerful trait and many women possess it and could strengthen it easily by honing into their feminine power.


Why? And How? Hear me out. Since the beginning of mankind women have had to multitask, watch out for risk, forage for fruits and berries, keep their children alive, understand their children until they are able to express themselves etc. While men in contrast were the laser-focused hunters. Who shut out all the ‘distractions’ in order to single-mindedly, emotions aside, do the kill. Because saber-toothed tigers were real, but also meat protein was an important survival and evolution mechanism. Nature is brilliant.


Anyhow, if you agree or disagree, the point I am trying to make is women tend to have the disposition to be very good at reading a room, understanding slight nuances in tone of voices, body language etc. You will notice that very clearly when you have to interact with babies (potentially your own), elderly humans who might not be able to express themselves clearly anymore, or of course animals who only communicate non-verbally. So take this natural aptitude, double down on it, hone in on it.

Here my final call to action for you: Lean in with open-minded child-like curiosity. Leave prejudice aside! Lean in into learning opportunities of all sorts, lean into dialogs with people from different walks of lives, lean in to seek touch points with different people, animals, or nature - the more you do that, the more you can strengthen your empathy muscle.

Five self-reflection questions to ask yourself to develop more empathy:

Am I actively listening?

Consider whether you are fully engaged in the conversation without interrupting or formulating your response while the other person is speaking. Active listening involves giving your full attention and being genuinely present.


Do I seek to understand different perspectives?

Evaluate your openness to diverse viewpoints. Empathy involves appreciating and understanding the experiences and opinions of others, even if they differ from your own. Ask yourself if you actively seek out and consider alternative perspectives.


How do I express (empathy) non-verbally?

Reflect on your non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Non-verbal communication plays a significant role in expressing empathy. Assess whether your gestures and demeanor convey understanding and support.


Am I aware of and managing my judgments?

Examine your tendency to make quick judgments or assumptions about others. Empathy requires a conscious effort to suspend judgment and approach situations with an open mind. Ask yourself if you are making an effort to understand before passing judgment.


Do I consider the emotions of others in decision-making?

Assess the extent to which you take into account the emotions and well-being of others when making decisions. Empathetic leaders consider the impact of their choices on the individuals involved and strive to make decisions that prioritize both efficiency and emotional well-being.

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