7 Important Traits of Empathetic Leadership 

 January 25, 2021

By  James Brauer

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7 Important Traits of Empathetic Leadership

Did you know that empathy is said to be the most vital skill of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Despite all the technological advances driving the Fourth Revolution, the people factor of empathy is just that important. In this article, I'll share seven habits you can begin adopting to your empathetic leadership style.

Meaning of Empathy

This article was inspired by recent content published in TD, the Association for Talent Development. In the article titled, "The New Power Skill: Empathy", author Robin Miles shared how Empathy is a critical soft skill that is needed of managers.

Some sociologists claim that we are currently in a Fourth Industrial Revolution. But, unlike the previous three, the current Revolution calls for leaders and managers to utilize skills that encourage higher levels of productivity and human innovation.

To begin with, there are three types of empathy: 1.) cognitive, which is the ability to see things from the perspective of another person and understand their thinking; 2.) affective, which is when you can share the emotions of another person and build a connection with them; and 3.) compassionate, which is when you can mutually share the emotions of another person, but without those emotions obstructing you.

It's important to not mistaken empathy with sympathy or pity.

You can express sympathy for another person's troubles and you would experience the emotion of pity as you feel sadness or feel it in your stomach.

Importance of Empathy

From a neurological standpoint, if a person is experiencing higher than normal stress, when another person expresses empathy it could lower cortisol levels in the brain. This helps make somebody feel more comfortable and less stress overall.

This is the reason why so many managers that employ empathetic leadership qualities generate positive outcomes during times of challenge and chaos. Their team members ultimately feel more relaxed, understood, and safe working with this type of manager.

Example of an Empathetic Leader

To explain this, we'll follow the model laid out by Helen Riess, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Riess created the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. model, of which includes seven factors that when implemented, could lead a person to being a more empathetic leader.

#1 - Eye Contact

Eye contact is a powerful nonverbal communication cue. If you provide too little eye contact, you could convey a perception that you can't be trusted. However, if you provide too much eye contact, you could be perceived as aggressive, hostile, or angry. This is important to remember the next time you work with others in-person or during digital meetings.

#2 - Muscles of Facial Expression

Similar to the impact eye contact has as nonverbal communication, so too, does your facial expression. Many emotions can be read by others through just your facial expression and reactions. According to Robin Miles, a certified executive coach and keynote speaker, "leaders with a keen ability to notice how individuals express emotions through facial movements have a higher empathetic capacity."

#3 - Posture

The way you position your body could send another strong nonverbal cue to others. Slouching could indicate a lack of confidence or boredom. Standing and sitting straight would signify that you're interested, paying attention, or professional. Crossing your arms could indicate your are preoccupied, bored, or disinterested. One bit of advice is to learn the typical mannerisms of those around you and notice when they demonstrate any changes in their body communication. This could potentially provide a great signal on how to change your interactions with them at that moment.

#4 - Affect

Psychologically, affect is described as "any outward expression of feelings and emotions." These expressions can be verbal and nonverbal. So for this component of Riess's EMPATHY model, empathetic leaders must be cognizant of an employee's mood and overall state of the mind. While this can be difficult to accurately detect and know, the more a leader can recognize changes in their team members' feelings and emotions, the quicker the leader can appropriately respond.

#5 - Tone of Voice

One's tone of voice cannot be discounted when you are expressing your emotion to others. Researcher Albert Mehrabian posits that how you express your emotion to others will be perceived like this----7% based on your verbal cues, 38% your tone and vocal cues, and 55% based on your facial expression. This research has been challenged by several other researchers. The key is this--words do matter, but so too, does one's tone of voice.

#6 - Hearing the Whole Person

This component brings many of the other factors into play--hearing another person can be signified through a receiver's eye contact, facial expression, posture, tone of voice in responding and outward expression of feelings. All of this, individually and combined, are part of how a person is "heard". Knowing this to be true, a manager can skillfully react and respond when listening to colleagues.

#7 - Your Response

The last factor practiced by empathetic leaders relates to one's response. This is less about how a leader actually responds to another. Instead, this focuses on how a leader responds to his/her own emotion and feelings. It is important for a manager to build self-awareness and self-actualization. This will likely prevent overly emotional reactions to others.

James Brauer

James Brauer, an education veteran with a rich 20-year career, merges his diverse experiences in special education, alternative and virtual schooling, and education administration in his incisive blog posts. Now, as a high school teacher imparting knowledge in English, Drama, and Career Communications, he combines his scholarly acumen with real-world insights to delve into the depths of education, business, and personal development. Each piece is a testament to James' unwavering commitment to future-ready skills and his ability to frame complex ideas in an accessible, engaging manner. Join him as he navigates the evolving landscapes of these intersecting fields, always with an eye on the horizon of learning innovation.

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