Empathy: A Critical Leadership Skill

Mar 1, 2022 | Leadership

Empathy means “being other focused, being willing to understand what it means to walk their path.”

Michael Bungay Stanier from ““The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever” 

Empathy is an essential leadership skill yet one that often doesn’t make it on the list when I ask leaders what they believe is a critical leadership trait.


I have witnessed employers demonstrate empathy (and kindness) throughout the pandemic to navigate employee challenges and needs, understanding that this has been turbulent times for many. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed the flip side where leaders have not put themselves in the shoes of others, resulting in hasty decisions and little to no accommodations. As a result, there is a stark difference in the culture and morale. Through my experience, empathetic leadership has resulted in highly cohesive, supportive, motivated, engaged, and happier teams.


Genuinely trying to put yourself in others’ shoes allows you to connect on a deeper level with your employees. After all, we tend to spend 40+ hours a week at work and so connecting on a human and personal level with our employees, colleagues, and peers is not a nice-to-have but a must-have if we want to enjoy coming into work. In addition, empathy leads to employees feeling safe, taken care of and gives them a greater sense of belonging and trust. Don’t we all want a workplace where we feel safe, listened to, and genuinely cared for?


“Good people are not just crucial to a business, they are the business … Finding them, managing them, inspiring them and then holding onto them is one of the most important challenges a business leader faces, and your success or lack there of plays a vital role in the long-term success and growth of your business” by Richard Branson in “Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School.”


People are the lifeline of any business. To better attract and retain them, be others-focused and listen to understand. How?


Be approachable


Don’t get stuck behind the desk. Take the time to speak to your people.


Open the door for people to share their struggles and concerns and better yet, listen attentively to their thoughts. Being a strong leader means you’re looked to for guidance and assistance when needed.


“One of the most common reasons people leave a job is because they were not listened to. It’s rarely just about money, more often about frustration” by Richard Branson in “Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School.”


Be flexible


Work with your people to truly understand their challenges and help them uncover solutions. Remember that there is no black and white. Be willing to deviate from what you think is the right (and only) answer. Strong leaders know how to listen, understand, adapt, and validate other propositions and opinions.


Be empathetic


I have these four words on a post-it to be a constant reminder to lead with empathy in all interactions.



In my career, I have experienced empathic leadership.


When I had two back-to-back car accidents, I had a leader who stepped up to the plate for me. With no short-term disability in the company, she advocated for me at the Partnership table emphasizing the importance of supporting me through the difficult time. I took one month off, and the company opted to pay 100% for my time off to allow me to recover and heal. I remember how that made me feel back then and to this day, I am so grateful for what they did for me.


“Most of our actions … are driven by emotion. We feel better when we love, nurture, and care for others” by Scott Galloway in “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.”


It not only feels good to care for others, but being on the receiving end, we have to remember that being cared for and supported equates to loyal and engaged staff. They won’t forget how you treated them and demonstrated empathy. I haven’t forgotten.


During this pandemic, we have had to think outside the box and offer a helping hand to our people. Struggles have included working from home, returning to the office, mask-wearing, vaccinations, and more! To take care of our people, we have had to make concessions and devise alternate ways of doing business to support them. We have had to be flexible, even when it has been difficult to do so. Without empathetic leadership the risk is losing people, eroding workplace culture, and declining engagement.


In a nutshell, empathy creates bonds, guides understanding, and cultivates stronger workplaces where employees feel inspired, empowered, supported, and heard.


“Myself and my fellow executive team members have been working with Sofia (Upskill Consulting’s Principal) in a leadership training series over the past several months. The experience has been transformative both at an individual and team level. Her experience is evident. She reaches each of us at our individual needs and connects our learning back to the team. What’s so unique is how she has tailored the workshops and coaching to our specific team and business. With Sofia’s education and guidance, we are growing and evolving into the leaders our business needs today and in the future.” CANNEPP Boiler Roome Technologies


Sofia Arisheh

We are here to help!

Receive HR insights right in your inbox.