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Empathy led leadership is not for the weak

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

By Phil Slade

There is a common misunderstanding that leading with empathy is somehow a passive style of leadership, one that always seeks permission and never does anything that ‘rocks the boat’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong empathy based leadership does cultivate a more peaceful social environment between staff and the broader community, but it does not mean that you shy away from making the hard, sometimes unpopular decisions or baulk at driving people to improve their performance. Empathy based leadership is simply making sure you listen to people, making sure they feel heard, validated and considered, and being cognizant and gracious to anyone who may be negatively impacted by decisions.

Any hierarchical social structure (businesses, schools, community groups, even families) are not democracies, but they all work better when people listen, understand, consider and respect each other. This is the heart of empathy based leadership, and the essence of a high performance team. High performance teams don’t create people problems, they go about achieving their goals trusting the competence and intent of those around them, deal with problems quickly before they fan into major issues, and are not jealous or envious of other people’s success (but rather they feed off it).

This high performance culture is the result of empathy based leadership. It detects petty politicking and calls it out, it gives no air to people wanting to stir up trouble, it listens to the front-line when they identify problems or innovate solutions, and most of all it treats everyone with intelligence, respect and compassion. Empathy is a muscle, a skill that can take time and effort to develop, but when strong it creates internal strength, inter-personal efficiencies and empowers others to be at their best. A great healthy habit that can be found in the switch app is a mantra that helps build compassion when faced with someone who starts to frustrate or annoy you. In the moment, simply start saying to yourself:

“Just like me, this person wants to be happy”

“Just like me, this person doesn’t want to suffer”

“Just like me, this person can be sad and lonely”

“Just like me, this person has things they need”

“Just like me, this person is learning about life”

This helps bring peace to your own mind and allows you to better consider their perspective, and maybe their pain. In other words, have empathy.

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