Empathetic Leadership The Most Effective Leadership Model

Adopting an empathetic leadership model can lead to enhanced productivity, wellbeing, and employee retention.

  • Release Date: 03 March 2023
  • Update Date: 05 June 2024
  • Author: Speaker Agency
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World of work is transforming. We are not talking only about change in a technological, mechanical or even automation sense. We are taling about a soft takeover of emotions. 

Leaders understand that humans hired to complete tasks are living breathing organisms exposed to and shaped by many elements in their lives. This could be political, neurological, cultural and physical. 

Today, we’re seeing a shift towards a more caring, empathetic leadership style. Indeed, empathy has become so prominent and important to leadership that it has quickly gone from an “ overlooked soft leadership skill” to an “essential component.”

And you can see why. Empathy from managers and leaders can be the golden ticket that leads to a positive and productive workplace, one in which employees feel valued and supported. It’s especially important today when employee burnout and high turnover rates are two of the leading issues that organisations must address.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into empathy in leadership, including what it is, how it can help, and how you can incorporate empathy into your own leadership style.  

First thing First What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to read, think and feel what another person is going through. 

There are different types of empathy. They are:

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how people feel, think as well as their body language and reactions to triggers. Cognitive empathy helps us to become efficient communicators and mediators. 

Emotional Empathy

Emotional Empathy or sometimes known as somatic empathy is being able to really tune into and feel another person’s feelings and reactions to an event. Emotional empathy helps us to form deep bonds of trust.

Affective Empathy

Affective empathy is when our empathy skills lead to us taking action and this really is where empathetic leadership can flourish and create great leaders.

What is Empathetic Leadership?

Empathetic leadership offers a more balanced working arrangement; it provides support and care to the employee, allowing the leader to support the workforce.

Empathetic Leadership Traits

What empathetic leadership looks like in practice will vary from one organisation to the next, since it’s a reactive leadership style that responds to the environment. However, there are several recurring pillars that all empathetic leaders follow. They are:


Of course, you can’t be an empathetic leader without empathy. So what does this really mean? It’s about going beyond simply witnessing a person’s emotions but feeling them, too. It’s one thing to know that an employee is upset, but it’s another thing entirely to truly feel their negative emotion. 


Compassion is closely linked to empathy. It’s the desire to take action based on feelings of empathy. For example, empathy would allow you to recognise that one of your employees is upset; compassion is the desire to do something about that. 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is what allows you to recognise the feelings of others, much like compassion. In a leadership position, it’s also what allows you to regulate your own feelings. Emotional intelligence is what allows leaders to offer empathy and compassion from a leadership perspective without bringing their own emotions into the picture. 


An empathetic leader takes a flexible approach to their management style, which allows them to respond to the thoughts, needs, and wishes of their employees. Empathetic leaders tend to be guided by strong underlying values rather than specific working models. 

The Benefits of Empathy in Leadership

You can’t build an empathetic workplace overnight. But if you make part of your leadership style, then, over time, you will notice a string of benefits, which include:

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Productivity Boosts

There’s some hard data that suggests that empathetic workplaces outperform non-empathetic workplaces. One study from Harvard Business Review showed that empathetic organisations were up to 50% better in terms of productivity, growth, and earnings. Individuals who feel valued by and listened to by their employers tend to work better and harder than those who do not. 

It Prevents Burnout

Employees are not machines. They are not able to work through stressful periods indefinitely. Employees are much more likely to experience burnout if they’re working for a company that does have an empathetic attitude.

And this doesn’t just harm the employee, but also the business. Empathetic leadership encourages a good work/life balance, which helps to keep workplace stress at a minimum. 

It Enhances Diversity

Empathy helps to give a voice to all employees, regardless of gender, political and cultural backgrounds hidden or visible disabilities. Empathetic leaders create workplaces where everyone has a chance to speak, which in turn can lead to more and higher-quality ideas. 

Improved Employee Retention Rate 

As Mimi Nicklin says, “by failing to proactively nurture empathy in our future leaders, we are failing to protect our future.” An empathetic workplace is a happy workplace that team members will want to remain a part of. ROI if empathetic leadership is profound.

How to Be An Empathic Leader?

Being an empathetic leader is about bringing heart to the workplace. There’s an outdated idea that leaders should keep empathy out of business, but research shows that it can have a transformative impact on a company’s success. 

And, more broadly, it’s just the right thing to do. So how can you be an empathetic leader? Let’s take a look.

Positive Thinking

Non-empathetic leaders are likely to jump to conclusions, especially when things don’t go to plan. An empathetic leader takes the time to understand not only what happened, but why it happened. And they do so through the lens of positivity. 

Anger — or, at least, anger directed at employees — has no place in empathetic leadership. It’s about trying to find solutions and prevent future mistakes with a caring attitude. 

Listening to Others

You’re not a mind reader. You can’t understand the thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints of other people if you don’t listen to them. Active listening is a skill that takes time to develop, but it’s worthwhile doing so. 

Growth Mindset

Having an empathetic attitude helps leaders to retain a sense of humility, which doesn’t just help them as a person, but also benefits the organisation as a whole.

Read our blog about growth mindset  and to learn how it impacts leadership. By allowing yourself to take on board the thoughts and ideas of employees at all levels, from the bottom to the top. 

A Safe and Secure Space 

Empathetic leaders provide a safe and secure work environment, a place where their teams feel comfortable and psychologically safe.. The opposite of an empathetic workplace is one where employees feel on edge or feel they are unable to speak to their superiors about whatever issue they’re facing, and that can have a subtle but corrosive impact on the company’s pursuit of success. 

Beyond Work 

Your employees are more than their jobs. They have their own rich and fulfilling lives. An empathetic leader takes the time to get to know their employees on a deeper level. 

Remember: It All Starts at the Top

Empathy in the workplace requires commitment and dedication at all levels. When the team’s leader demonstrates a commitment to empathy, it can set the tone for the rest of the company, ensuring that employees act in their own empathetic way. This, in turn, can enhance the standards of the organisation from top to bottom.

Empathy for Breakfast Lunch and Dinner

The history of work hasn’t been empathetic. But the future is. With the younger generation valuing working in an empathetic environment more than the predecessors, it’s important for organisations to do as Mimi Nicklin author of Softening the Edge says and nurture the next generation of empathetic leaders. It’s a move that’ll benefit the leader, the employees, and the entire organisation. 

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