Leading with Empathy


  • In the current context of significant disruption and uncertainty, our experiences will be as diverse as we are as a community, and for some, and for ourselves at times … we’ll have moments when it really sucks.
  • For leaders, supporting key staff and colleagues though these moments and leading with empathy is really important. However many leaders may be feeling very vulnerable themselves (uncomfortable, anxious) – and not know what to do, how to have a conversation with their staff, or know what the answer is.  


There are many benefits of leaders being able to convey vulnerability and support others in a vulnerable position:

  • It humanises us as leaders and builds trust. It demonstrates that, at times, it’s normal for things to really suck 
  • It can build more honest and open conversations with less fear on how something will be perceived
  • It gives a real opportunity to learn. Without urgency and enough pain or discomfort that learning motivation often isn’t as high.
  • It helps us learn what is going on, what matters to people, and what to look out for and ask questions about. With periodic check-ins and sharing of where people are at, it can lead to early awareness of emerging problems at work.
  • It can improve performance and productivity. Studies show positive staff wellbeing is linked with improved labour productivity (effort), reduction in moments of presenteeism, higher levels of staff engagement, lower levels of staff burnout, and even the loyalty of customers.  

What you can do as a leader?

  • Take a moment, give time, be aware that before solutions can be really developed any strong emotion and impact needs to be acknowledged, so ….  acknowledge the current difficulty.
  • You don’t need to have all the answers. Don’t worry if you don’t. It’s about working together, staying in touch and facilitating an improvement in some way.
  • Follow up and stay in touch. Small moments of contact and checking in from time to time are easier to do and keep communication lines open.
  • Look to focus and support what people can do, and what is in their control.  Help them sharing the circle of influence and what they can control and what is not in their control – don’t worry about things outside of our control.
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to your network and seek input, including specialist advice. 
  • If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t, make sure you stay in touch. Information vacuums build doubt and uncertainty and they’re to be avoided.
  • Look at the big picture – make sure support exists within, and is aligned to an integrated wellbeing system for all staff. 

Additional References

Discovering your authentic leadership

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