5 Tips On How To Lead With Empathy

By Chong Jinn Xiung

What does it mean to lead with empathy and how is it critical to building a healthier and more productive workforce? Business coach Jeevan Sahadevan weighs in with five tips

Tatler Asia
Photo: Getty Images
Cover  Photo: Getty Images

Empathy is one of the most important traits a leader can have—and it can be nurtured.

An empathetic leader takes a genuine interest in the well-being of those around them. They seek to understand what motivates their team and listen, really listen, when an employee reaches out to them with a challenge or problem they need help tackling. They then provide support by working with them to figure out ways to overcome those challenges and problems.

Empathy isn't just good for culture. It helps the company perform better—and management knows it. According to research, 85 percent of CEOs believe that empathy drives better business outcomes. One US study found that employees with empathic leaders showed higher levels of creativity and engagement. 

So how can leaders show more empathy in the workplace? We reached out to business coach Jeevan Sahadevan to give five tips.

Read more: 5 Ways Leaders Can Create A More Inclusive Workplace Culture

1. Communicate

“As a leader, don’t assume your employees know exactly what you are thinking,” says Sahadevan. “It isn’t enough for leaders to say you want a high-performing team because that doesn’t outline what needs to be achieved.” Instead, he advises leaders to be clear in the way they communicate to the team the goals that need to be fulfilled and how progress will be tracked.

2. Listen

“Actively listen to the challenges your employees are facing to understand what is going on,” says Sahadevan. Active listening means that leaders are fully present without trying to control or judge a situation. This involves pushing away preconceived notions about the situation and not letting your mind go to fault-finding. By observing verbal and non-verbal cues, empathetic leaders will be better able to share appropriate feedback.

3. Support

The most effective leaders support their team by exercising their problem-solving skills instead of only barking orders, says Sahadevan. This means being able to identify a pain point or problem and using data to develop a solution, before communicating it clearly to the team to roll out.

4. Make goals more manageable

When tackling a large or difficult project, Sahadevan suggests leaders use fractal thinking in order to break a complex task down into smaller goals, making them more manageable for employees to achieve. He cites the example of breaking a 300-page book down into chapters and setting time aside to read a set number of pages to make it less daunting to complete the entire book.

5. Empower

An emphatic leader works to bring out the best in their team, says Sahadevan. They stay connected with their team members, which enables them to place people in roles that they can best deliver value. They also promote employee unity by encouraging people to support each other and feel part of a team working towards the same goals.

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