S4E14. Empathy

What do you think about when you hear the word “empathy?” As a leader do you feel like you are empathetic with your team — or are you sympathetic? And why should you care?

In the book “Humans Are Underrated,” author Geoff Colvin states, “In this next wave of leadership evolvement, the most important skill that leaders must have is empathy. Women will have more leadership opportunities than men because they are much more empathetic than men.” He’s right.

Many people confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy means understanding that someone else is suffering, while empathy is the ability to experience someone else’s feelings. The former is more cognitive, and the latter is more emotional.

Showing empathy requires vulnerability. Being vulnerable means putting yourself out there for others to see. Too often, leaders see vulnerability as a sign of weakness. I disagree; being vulnerable is a sign of humanity, and by doing so, you create stronger human connections. And creating connections is what great leaders do.

Leaders can increase empathy by replacing assumptions with a sense of curiosity that opens up to empathy. Curiosity is a good thing. It helps us ask questions, gather more facts and information, and eliminate our assumptions.

The better you treat and understand the people you serve through improv leadership, the more empowered they become. The ability to truly listen to another person and be able to empathize with them is showing gratitude, respect, and support. That costs you nothing but time — and that is time well spent.