What Is An Empathetic Leader? Here’s Everything You Need to Know


Empathy is a critical skill for leaders, but in recent years, it’s taken a more center stage, and rightfully so. Empathetic leaders bring out the best in their team and create a culture that boosts productivity, morale, and decreases turnover.

Here’s everything you need to know about empathetic leaders, including what they are, why they matter, and some traits to help you identify them. We’ll also discuss the consequences of unempathetic leadership to help you understand just how important a compassionate approach is.

What is an Empathetic Leader?

An empathetic leader cares about their team members’ well-being and lives both in and out of work. These leaders have a genuine interest in fostering a workplace that is caring, supportive, and understanding; they’re there to support their team’s challenges and successes. 

Empathetic leaders seek to understand an individual’s position and offer advice and support accordingly. These interactions help employees feel safe and valued.

Why Empathy Matters at Work

An unempathetic workplace creates a stressful environment where productivity and business goals take a hit.

A study by Georgetown University found that workplace incivility is rising, causing increased turnover, worse customer experiences, and reduced performance. Further, a study published in Occupational Health Science found that stressful work environments compromise sleep. Poor sleep results in poor productivity.

Overall, empathetic leadership creates a secure and productive workplace, giving employees the support they need to thrive. You’d be hard pressed to find any negative outcomes arising from a compassionate approach.

6 Empathetic Leadership Traits

What does an empathetic leader look like? Here are 6 empathetic leadership traits.

  1. Flexible

Leaders who approach their role with empathy are adaptable. They genuinely care about others’ opinions and can adjust their approach based on these insights. 

Empathetic leaders are never so stuck in their ways that they’re closed-minded to others’ opinions.

  1. Approachable

Empathetic leaders create a work environment that is caring and supportive. By taking care of their team, they become approachable. 

If a team member needs guidance, an empathetic leader is there to listen. Nobody should ever feel too intimidated by their boss to seek their counsel.

  1. Active Listener

Leading with empathy means being an active listener.

Active listening is a communication style that means providing one’s full attention solely to understand the speaker. Often, people only listen partially or to come up with what to say next. Active listening is different and shifts the focus off you and to the other person.

Active listeners do the following:

  • Allow the speaker to talk without interruption
  • Make eye contact, smile, and give other nonverbal cues indicative of listening fully
  • Repeat what one heard to check for understanding
  • Listen without passing judgment
  • Ask questions to help gain understanding

Empathetic leaders understand the power of active listening and seek to practice it with their team.

  1. Motivational

The most empathetic leaders are the ones who are a source of motivation for their team. The team’s successes and failures are theirs. Even in the toughest of times, these leaders are a beacon of hope.

  1. Cares About Personal Lives

One of the signature traits of an empathetic leader is caring deeply about their team members’ lives outside work. 

Having genuine empathy for one’s team means understanding their personal lives. Employees’ personal lives significantly impact performance at work; empathetic leaders understand this. They ask about life outside work, offer support when employees are going through something difficult, and grant time off as needed for employees to resolve personal issues.

  1. Values Others’ Opinions

An unempathetic leader believes their opinion is the only one that matters and won’t give credence to others’ ideas. Empathetic leaders take the opposite approach – no idea is perfect, including their own, and they’re open to the opinions of others.

Notably, leading with empathy means implementing others’ ideas regularly. It isn’t enough to simply hear them out.

Consequences of Unempathetic Leaders

An unempathetic workplace comes with severe consequences you want to avoid. Be on the lookout for these.

  1. Poor Productivity

People who feel empowered and satisfied with their workplace culture are more productive and complete their work at a higher quality.

Unempathetic leaders create a workplace of low morale and productivity. 

  1. Higher Turnover

Pew Research found that feeling disrespected at work was one of the top three reasons Americans quit their jobs in 2021 during the Great Resignation. A lousy boss – one who is unempathetic – can easily be the primary driver of this disrespect.

Turnover is expensive and damages your company’s profit margins and morale. Leading with empathy is an essential step toward reducing turnover.

  1. Selfish Workplace

Company culture starts at the top. Unempathetic leaders create a selfish workplace where employees don’t feel supported by their boss or peers. This lack of support forces employees to prioritize themselves always, forgoing supporting others.

Selfish workplaces degrade morale, increase turnover, and damage productivity.

  1. Less Overall Company Success

In general, unempathetic leadership damages a company’s overall success. It leads to higher turnover, lower productivity, poor quality of work, and a negative company culture that can harm a company’s image. 

Recruiting Empathetic Leaders

Especially when hiring for your most senior positions, finding empathetic leaders is critical. Unfortunately, knowing if someone will be a compassionate leader is difficult. 

Outsourcing your executive- and senior-level hiring to an experienced executive search firm helps ensure you hire the right empathetic leader who exceeds your expectations. These firms have decades of experience sourcing talent and know your industry inside and out.

Jennings Executive has over two decades of combined experience finding high-level empathetic leadership for various companies. We’d love to help you on your journey. Learn more today!

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