How to Lead With Empathy (and Why it Matters!)

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Did you know that empathy is one of the most powerful traits that leaders can display? While much of the conversation about leadership development often centres around the proper delegation of tasks, handling conflict, and knowing how to incentivize your team, emotional acuity is an underlying skill that informs all aspects of our leadership. Empathy, particularly in a professional setting, is an incredible asset for your entire team that can transform workplace culture.

With teams now facing the unique challenge of reintegrating into an office environment after a prolonged work-from-home period, empathy and compassion from management and those in positions of leadership is more important than ever before. Below, we’ll discuss what leading with empathy looks like, and how you can integrate key elements into your practice. Read on to learn more!

What is Professional Empathy

As a whole, empathy refers to our ability to perceive, relate, and react to the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of those around us. While we may be taught to guard our thoughts and feelings in a professional environment, empathy in the workplace involves management seeking to truly align with their team members and understand where they’re coming from, as well as how that influences their experience within your organization.

It’s important to note as we discuss the importance of compassion in the workplace, that empathy is different from sympathy, and the two should not be conflated. Where empathy avoids judging and focuses on active listening and engagement to reach a genuine understanding, sympathy generally stems from a pre-formed understanding or person projection based on our own experiences. While exercising sympathy can be quite kind, it is not overly effective from a leadership perspective and can actually cause harm in the long run by leading to misconception and a breakdown in communication during stressful times.

Studies have continuously shown that workplaces with empathetic practices in place reap multiple benefits when it comes to employee retention, conflict resolution, inclusivity and other core areas of productivity including:

  • Innovation
  • Engagement
  • Overall Performance
  • Work-life balance
  • Personal satisfaction, and more.

Empathy in Action
With today’s workforce calling for a more “human” face for their leadership and interactions with authority, the time to integrate empathetic practices in your company or organization is now. As we’ve all been so keenly reminded of over the past two years, our work and personal lines are more intertwined than ever before, and making sure your employees have a leadership team that they feel connected and engaged with is key to the overall success of your organization. Make sure your leadership is acutely aware of how important empathy is to the growth and development of your team, and consider providing training to help your management practice the following behaviours:

Humility and Self-Awareness

Positions of leadership carry a great deal of responsibility, and team members are more likely to follow the guidance of those who aren’t afraid to let their guard down from time to time. Owning mistakes and creating learning opportunities go along away, as does exercising the ability to keep your own emotions in check and display patience when dealing with difficult situations.


Empathy comes from two sides meeting together to form an understanding, which requires transparent communication from both parties. If you want your team to be open and honest with you, you need to practice the same policy with them. Creating a safe space for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives is a key part of practising professional empathy and benefits the whole team.

Demonstrate a Willingness to Help

While there is a need to exercise boundaries between personal and professional relationships, good leaders know how to safely and respectfully walk that line. If there’s anything the past few years have taught us, it’s the incredible value found in being able to reintroduce the “human” side of things back into HR!

Learn to Lead With Empathy

Looking to strengthen your team and create a culture that drives success? Pivot HR is here to help. Based in Vancouver, BC, we’re happy to help clients across Canada equip their leaders with the tools they need to succeed, as well as support for a wide variety of HR matters. Learn more about how Pivot HR can help create positive cohesion and communication in your office by contacting us today!

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