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Why having and utilizing empathy matters

Unsure how empathy fits into your leadership style? Consider the following, and learn how having empathy can help you tailor your tactics and build a strong and loyal team.

5 min read


Hands together


Why are people making so much of this so-called soft skill called empathy? Why care about the feelings of others?

It may seem that consideration for emotions would have no place in the business world. They’re not important for getting the job done –– or are they? Today’s top companies are looking for leaders who have that ability to empathize, to put themselves in others’ situations and imagine things from an different perspective. Knowing how to elicit the best from your team requires empathy and understanding. Those who can get at the heart of what motivates people can tailor their approach and harness that energy to get ahead at work.

Unsure how empathy fits into your leadership style? Consider the following, and learn how having empathy can help you tailor your tactics and build a strong and loyal team.

Know what motivates

Imagine that you have an employee whom you need to complete a specific task. You know all the steps required, and may even have significant experience in doing it yourself. Will this team member be excited by this new responsibility, knowing only the general task, the basic business knowledge and the desired end result? Would they be more enthusiastic if they knew your detailed process and exact steps to complete so they could ensure they deliver just as you would have?

Knowing how your team member is likely to feel before you delegate a task can help you tailor your approach and guarantee not only the best outcome but also the most engaged and motivated employee. Modifying to fit is a powerful tool in drawing others to work with you.

Know what causes stress

Now consider a situation where you are sitting in a large meeting that includes a number of groups from your organization. A question arises, and while you have a general understanding, you believe one person on your team likely has more than enough information to competently answer the question and put the topic to bed. Would they appreciate it if you spoke up and called on them, giving them a chance to shine? Would being asked to speak off the cuff in front of the group be the stuff of nightmares for them, no matter how well you thought they answered?

If you don’t know, it would be hard to decide if you would be empowering or torturing them by giving them the floor. Knowing how others are likely to feel will dictate a great leader’s actions just as much as the tasks at hand and the organization’s larger goals. Taking feelings into account can make all the difference in retaining a great employee, and a great leader knows how to build a strong following.

Know what inspires

If you’re aspiring to increased leadership opportunities, chances are you’re the sort of person who does best when they know the “why and the how” of your organization’s big-picture goals. You may have been someone who needed to understand the purpose of a task in order to give it your best — grand ambitions may get you out of bed in the morning. Just as likely, you may have met others along the way who thought differently.

Some people prefer to focus on the task at hand. They would rather go home at the end of the day knowing all the boxes are ticked on the checklist. Worrying about larger (as yet) unmet goals and loftier targets would just be stressful and would put a pall over the prospect of tomorrow.

Time spent with your team will give you an idea about how each of them approaches the world. Some may be inspired by working with you toward a larger objective, while others only want to concentrate on what is expected of them today. You can adjust and get the best work from all if you know how to share and inspire them.

Putting yourself in another’s shoes to understand how they view and approach work can be vital in knowing how to best use their skills to complete your team’s objectives. Time spent communicating and getting to know your staff and their styles, preferences and motivations is never wasted, inside or outside the workplace. Anything and everything you learn will help you to be a better leader who can inspire and motivate your team to do their best. Start planning today to make empathy a part of your approach. Great leaders get ahead by knowing how to get the best out of themselves and their team.


Joel Garfinkle is an executive leadership coach who recently worked with a SVP who was struggling in making a connection with his team and understanding the importance of empathy. Joel utilized these three above areas in the coaching. The SVP was able to change his approach and improve his empathy, and his employee retention. Joel has written seven books, including How to Be A Great Boss: 7 Qualities That All Great Bosses HaveMore than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign upyou’ll receive the free e-book 41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!

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