One of the top saboteurs to a successful business is in the area of leadership. And the top Saboteur that undermines leadership is the lack of Empathy. If you are to become a “Success Master” you will need to perfect your empathy in dealing with all people.

Being a leader sounds noble and worthwhile until you’re actually in the role, be it as a parent, a professional, or heading an organization. Then creep in all sorts of voices in your head that can sabotage your efforts.

 Questions arise:

  • Should I push my ideas forward with gusto or hold back?
  • Whom should I consult without appearing to be weak or indecisive?
  • Who is reliable, smart, or confidential enough to trust?
  • How do I motivate; how much must I explain?
  • When is the best time to play my hand?
  • Do I really want to be blamed for mistakes?
  • How can I impress my superiors?
  • What’s in this position for me?

As a leader you never really get good answers to these questions in part because those whom you are leading are often reluctant, or unable, to tell you the candid, honest, truth.

There is a way out from this dilemma, and a way to quiet down those pesky questions: Empathy. The first step in being an Empathic Leader is to get rid of all questions that contain the pronouns, “I” and “me”. Focus solely on “We” and “Us.”

Chris Kolenda, Ph.D. Founder of the Kolenda Strategic Leaders Academy, wrote in a recent newsletter:

  • According to Gallup, 67% of Americans report being unengaged at work and that 75% who leave their jobs voluntarily due so to get away from their managers.
  • The cost of hiring a new employee may be as much as half their annual salary, according to studies in Harvard Business Review and Forbes? Hiring a new person for $100,000 position could cost as much as $50,000.
  • Toxic leaders could be breaking your business by driving employees away. Two $80k employees leaving could cost you up to $80k to recruit, hire, and train their replacements.
  • Workplace incivility, according to Forbes, costs roughly $14,000 in lost productivity per affected employee.

So let’s start by looking at what empathic leadership is NOT. I know a little about this because out of 15 jobs and assignments over the 40 years I would say only four of my supervisors showed any degree of empathy. The others went their own way in complete oblivion to what might make my life/work more effective at the job. They even exacerbated situations by their domineering attitude, unreasonable expectations, lack of communication, sense of entitlement, need to control, and self-absorption.

Most of us in a position of leadership want to please others, as well as having sense of self-satisfaction. This can cause us to take on too many responsibilities in order to be noticed as competent. Overwhelmed, we may try to delegate some of them or we end up blaming ourselves for not living up to our unreasonable expectations.

Let’s focus on this desire to please, because I see it everywhere: in domestic as well as professional life. It’s a form of codependence, desiring to create an outcome through anticipating how we think others want to feel. 

The desire to please often goes back to childhood. Children whose feelings were not validated in particular end up wondering if their parent cared about them. Into this emotional vacuum they pour their efforts to make things right, to be the “good boy” or the “pleasing girl.” They learn to treat all relationships as transactional, based on quid pro quos.(see Jonice Webb’s Running on Empty, about Childhood Emotional Neglect).

Children who are not shown empathy, a heartfelt understanding of how they feel in a given moment, usually don’t learn how to show it to themselves or others. In this loss of empathy development, the person’s focus becomes increasingly self-centered. They think eyes are always on them, ready to judge. They often feel the need to perform perfectly in order to be validated as a person. They may even feel like a failure.

Feelings of failure usually translate into a belief that there is something inherently defective about the person. John Bradshaw in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, calls this toxic shame. It feels like guilt but is far different. Guilt is doing something wrong. Toxic shame is being wrong as a human being.

Unconsciously bringing this kind of background into a leadership role is a recipe for disaster. It is an inner saboteur that needs to be slain! Fortunately, empathy is a skill that anyone can learn at any time. It’s a matter of being mindful of how we come across to others, the degree of non-agenda, active listening we foster, and what feelings people express that hide beneath their words.

Empathic leadership is all about taking care of the needs of your team members, employees, and associates, as well as clients and stakeholders. The payoff is a business where everyone feels emotionally and professionally validated.

I suggest nine points:

1. Make yourself available for conversations that go beyond “How was your weekend?” or “How are the kids?”.

2. Prepare to listen and not just engage in mindless chatter. This means taking at least 85% of contact time with your team to ask powerful, open-ended questions, about work, life, business trends, innovative ideas, comments, and criticisms.

3. Such open-ended questions might be “Tell me about your experience working here…doing this task…communicating with your manager/team members.” Ask: “Tell me about the successes /challenges you’ve encountered.  What can make things better in your opinion? What do you see needing to change?”

4. Take notes, if appropriate, to show you are paying attention and care about what you’re hearing. Show that you are NOT recording the name of the person, only the comments.

5. Use body language like nodding quietly to acknowledge that you’re understanding.  Say, “Tell me more,” to elicit greater detail and drill down to the essential matter at hand.

6. Ask for clarifications by reiterating what you’re hearing: “So if I’m correct, you seem to be saying, …. And you believe this could be remedied by….” Record clarifications.

7. The hard question now: ask, “What do you think I can do to make this happen?”  Tone is important here. You don’t want to sound defensive or aggressive, but rather hopeful and encouraging.

8.  Thank the person. You might say, “Wow, I’m so glad we had this conversation.  Let me know if anything else comes up.” Smile, show gratitude, don’t make promises about fixing anything right away, but offer the hope that the information you received will be part of a future discussion among your own leadership team.”

9.  Find a way to follow up in a meeting, or in a discussion with colleagues, even if the information didn’t seem to be of value at first. Others on your leadership team may ratify the importance of what you’ve heard as a point needing further discussion.

Unless you are especially gifted, as many Highly Sensitive Person are, turning on empathy takes patience and practice.  At first I felt awkward but then it became second nature as I listened more with my heart than with my head.

The payoff is a business that produces more, that employs happier people, that fosters loyalty, and most of all that give you greater confidence and courage to grow and extend your business to benefit many more people on all levels.

Tell me more about your Empathic journey. Contact me at

©2020 Michael Parise