The empathetic leader: why we need one and how to be one

Long gone are the days of the David Brents, the Miranda Priestlys, and that guy with the glasses from Office Space. Well not quite, they definitely still exist. But as people ever more realise that they are replaceable in the workforce, and that they don’t want to be in the same job forever, we’re getting less and less tolerant of horrible bosses.

So what are the kids looking for these days? The main value that they hold when looking for their forever jobs is an empathetic leader. As the name would suggest, an empathetic leader is someone who understands the needs of others, and then proceeds to work around that and fit it into their plan and work goals.

So how do you become an empathetic leader? It’s not an easily learned trait. Being attuned to others’ thoughts and feelings is something that does come naturally for some people, but not everyone has it. Learning is possible but it take time and effort and, above all, concentration.


The main two things to learn is how to listen to others and to listen well. Talking and listening with your team creates bonds. If you show you’re willing to listen, then they’ll be willing to come forward with new ideas or any problems. Showing that you’re willing to listen to everyone, attentively and with care, opens up collaboration and communication that drives the business forward. Effective leaders take in information, process it quickly, then make decisions based on that information.

Having in depth discussions and paying attention to what is being said overall makes you a better communicator, more of a people person, and hones your skills in attuning to and picking up others’ problems, tics, faults, and qualities.


Listening to others strengthens their trust and confidence in their leaders, and with this comes loyalty. People want to stay in places where they feel like their voices are being heard and their opinions are being taken into account. It’s getting harder and harder to make great staff stay in one place. A demanding job market has resulted in younger workers realising that they need to expand their skill set, hence a disproportionate amount of younger folk tend to leave their jobs much quicker than their older counterparts. A survey conducted in the USA found that workers “held an average of 5.7 jobs during the six-year period when they were 18 to 24 years old.”

It’s something to bear in mind with your staff. They won’t be there forever but having them stay longer is beneficial. Asking your staff individually what their goals are and what areas they would like to develop in (and the possibility of them trying that out at their current jobs) not only can help them broaden their horizons without having to go too far, it also makes them feel respected and that their best interests lie with the company.


In the wake of the MeToo movement and more people looking into workplace sexual harassment, having an empathetic leader at work can throw a lifeline to people at work suffering from sexual harassment and bullying. Providing a safe space at work where your employees feel as though they can trust you and receive support, and above all be believed, is tantamount to employee satisfaction and happiness.

Understanding how your employees must be feeling during a time of crisis or problems at work will aid you in aiding them. It allows for you to deal with the problem appropriately and sensitively, and won’t go unnoticed by staff.


Empathetic leadership is all about signifying to your workers that you are here, and you’re ready to listen and take things on board. Your role at work is to be an omnipresent force in the office. Not omniscient or omnipotent – you are not all-powerful and you’re not all knowing, but you should strive to be accessible and available at all times. Don’t make yourself out of reach for your staff – no problem should be too small to come to you, no slight improvement or advice should be beneath you. Your presence, but not interference, should signal to your staff that you’re invested and listening.

follow the leader

Empathetic leaders are preferred because they listen to what others are saying and they take it on board. They assess situations carefully and make actions based on what they know and what they feel, and what others know and feel. It’s a holistic, hands on approach to leadership that values every individual in the office.

We need empathetic leaders because we need to be understood, not yelled at or ordered around. At the end of the day, we’re all just a bundle of anxieties, quirks, faults, and strengths. It takes a good leader, and an empathetic one, to bring these all out and understand them, to help us be the best we can be.

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