What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the skill of connecting with others to identify and understand their thoughts, perspectives, and emotions; and demonstrating that understanding with intention, care, and concern.

Empathy helps bond colleagues together and forms the foundation of a resilient and inclusive workplace. Although it is often underestimated as a business skill, our findings suggest that empathy is essential to success in the future of work. Here are three things to know:
  • It is possible to cultivate and develop empathy.
  • There are three aspects of empathy: cognitive (head/thinking), affective (heart/feeling), and behavioral (action/doing).
  • Empathy links to many positive outcomes that teams can leverage to become more agile and innovative in times of crises.

What Is Empathetic Leadership?

An empathic leader is a leader who demonstrates care, concern, and understanding for employees’ life circumstances.

Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of others, and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. Unfortunately, it has long been a soft skill that is overlooked as a performance indicator.

Why Is Empathy Important in Leadership Communication?

Empathetic leaders have excellent communication and active listening skills and they inspire employees to improve their own communication skills. Empathy allows a leader to understand employee behaviours and individualise strategies for increasing work efficiency and productivity.

Beyond developing personal connections and being empathetic for the sake of being a good person, empathy is important in leadership at work because it increases trust, communication, and a sense of worth for team members. Top companies across industries agree that empathy is the most important leadership skill.

What Is the Impact of Being Empathetic as a Leader?

In a study by Catalyst Inc the positive outcomes of the impact of empathy were identified as:
  • Innovation: When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative—61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.
  • Engagement: 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.
  • Retention: 57% of white women and 62% of women of colour said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies. However, when they didn’t feel that level of value or respect for their life circumstances, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of colour respectively said they were unlikely to consider leaving.
  • Inclusivity: 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.
  • Work-Life: When people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they are able to navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family and work obligations. This is compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.

Key Questions to Reflect on as a Leader:

  • How has empathetic leadership impacted me as a leader?
  • How empathetic is my workplace culture?
  • How empathetic am I as a leader?
  • How do I demonstrate care, concern and understanding towards my team/ my colleagues?
  • How could being more empathetic as a leader lead to positive outcomes for myself and others?



The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace



Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research



What We Get Wrong About Empathic Leadership



Why Empathetic Leadership Is the Most Effective Leadership Style


The New York Times

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The Telegraph

Empathetic People Are Made, not Born, New Research Suggests



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Simmons, Todd

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Coaching for Leaders


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Hidden Brain


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Heather Kelly

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Joan Halifax

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Michelle Stowe

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What People Say

If you are looking to work with someone who has an infectious passion for making positive change happen, you will love working with Hannah. She has a wealth of experience at a senior leadership level and is hugely committed to the diversity agenda. I have benefitted personally from Hannah’s wisdom and guidance on these issues on a number of occasions.

Andy Buck

Founding DirectorLeadership Matters

When it comes to authentic and courageous leadership, Hannah is unbeatable. Her value-driven approach allows her to be precise and focused whilst taking an empathic approach. One of the leadership traits I admire the most in Hannah is her commitment to asking the difficult questions that others avoid, and this has been evident in her work encouraging Diverse Leaders. She is fearless and highly skilled at driving change, even in complex situations. Hannah is a catalyst and can cause a mindset shift in one conversation. Her leadership creates leaders.

Jaz Ampaw-Farr

Author & Speaker

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