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The Best Leaders Are Empathetic Leaders

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

Can you remember the incident that took place on a United Airlines flight in 2017 where Dr. Dao was dragged off the plane, blood running from his mouth and mumbling “just kill me.”

Many accuse United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz of lacking empathy towards Dr. Dao in his response after the incident calling the passenger disruptive' and 'belligerent' which sparked a public campaign to boycott United Airlines. Munoz subsequently change his tone and issue an apology to Dr. Dao. However, nothing changed at United because weeks later, a United gate agent refuses to allow two young girls to board a plane because their leggings didn’t adhere to the airline’s dress code for “pass travelers and just last year, a flight attendant insisted on putting a dog in an overhead bin because its carrier wouldn’t fit under the seat and assured the dog’s owner that it would be fine up there. The dog was found dead upon arrival at the destination.

To continually inspire your people to perform at their optimum best you must understand the perspectives of your people, and you must give them the respect they deserve which is reflected in the service provided to their customers; empathy allow you to achieve this and as a result, the most critical skill leaders needs today is empathy and the best leaders are empathetic leaders according to Lolly Daskal.

However many people today believe that leaders who are emphatic are weak, and for some reason they believe that this “soft Skill” is a nonessential variable that adds no value to their leadership and by extension their organization when all the studies have link empathy to superior business results according to Bruna Martinuzz.  

“Can you teach someone to be empathetic?” We all know some people who are naturally and consistently empathetic – these are the people who can easily forge positive connections with others according to Bruna. They are people who use empathy to engender trust and build bonds; they are catalysts who can create positive communities for the greater good. However, even if empathy does not come naturally to some of us, I firmly believe that we can develop this capacity.

Here are a few practical tips you should consider to help become an emphatic leader as outline by Martinuzz:

Take A Personal Interest In Your People.

When a leader demonstrates to employees that they care, the reciprocity reaction kicks in; to the point where they put more effort to help their leader and by extension their organization becomes successful according to Harvey Deutschendorf. Successful organizations are aware of this, and their leaders continuously look for ways to notice, compliment, and find ways to show their appreciation to their staff. Show people that you care ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations. This genuine curiosity about their lives will help foster a great, long-lasting relationship. 

Listening Skills.

To understand others and sense what they are feeling, leaders must be good listeners. Skilled listeners let others know that they are being heard, and they express understanding of concerns and problems. When a leader is a good listener, people feel respected, and trust can grow. 

Be Fully Present 

Don’t check your email, look at your watch or take phone calls when a direct report drops into your office to talk to you. Truly engage your people and create meaningful connections. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if someone did that to you? 

Encourage and Develop Your People 

Particularly the quiet ones, when they speak up in meetings. A simple thing like an attentive nod can boost people’s confidence.

Empathy is a vital part of emotional intelligence that several researchers believe is critical to being an effective leader. Some companies believe that empathy is so essential that they send managers to “empathy training.” According to the Wall Street Journal, 20% of employers now offer empathy training, which is up substantially from 10 years prior. Empathy helps build a great team, build trust and nurture a new generation of leaders.  

Leadership is all about people and relationships. Whether you’re the leader of a small team, the manager of a large retail store, or the CEO of a global corporation, your people make your organization successful. Oh, and by the way, previous reports say that United Airlines reached a confidential settlement with Dr. Dao to the tune of $140 million for the injuries he suffered, including a broken nose, a concussion, and broken teeth.

It pays to show empathy. 


About Gifford Thomas

I am the founder of Leadership First and the author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible. At Leadership First, we are committed to publishing the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles to inspire our 123,000+ community of leaders to believe in the impossible, while creating an environment free from toxic, fearful and intimidating leadership. We believe everyone can and should enjoy their work, but it must start with the leadership leading by example. Follow our community of leaders HERE, and let's change the leadership status quo to help inspire and motivate our leaders to make a difference and create an organization their people will love. 

You can download a copy of my book The Inspirational Leader and Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible by clicking on the word inspirational below:

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