The Power of Empathetic Leadership

By Marianne Renner: Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author   

A couple weeks ago, I asked an audience of leaders to describe “the world’s best boss.” In other words, what are the characteristics of the best boss you’ve ever had.

We held a lively discussion about one common response.


Leaders tell me the best boss they ever worked for cared about them both personally and professionally.

I then asked a follow up question. “When you worked for that ‘best boss,’ how did it impact your work?”

This is what I heard. “I had more energy. I did my very best work. I would move mountains for that boss.”

You may not have a team to lead. But the principle holds true for anyone. If you want people around you to show up as their very best, you need to show them you care.

Whether you lead a team or you are a member of a team, you rely on the help of others. Demonstrating empathy is a must.

According to Forbes, research shows that when employees feel heard by their leaders and peers, they are 4.6 times more likely to perform their best work (Behesthi, “10 Timely Statistics About Employee Engagement,” 2019).

What would it take for your team to say you are the best boss or co-worker they’ve ever worked with? What role can you play in getting the best from those around you?

Leaders in my workshops all across the country share three consistent examples of demonstrating empathy.


1. Professional development. People tell me their best boss cared about their growth and development. So, what does this look like? It means leaders can delegate tasks that give team members a sense of empowerment. Offer your team the opportunity to lead an important project or even to lead a team meeting.

Avoid the temptation to micromanage and control every detail of a project. Allow others the opportunity to learn and grow by allowing room for mistakes that they will learn from.

If you’re a leader looking to develop your team, you might offer to coach them to help them develop a particular leadership skill such as relationship-building or communication.


2. Personal Matters. Empathy is about showing support and understanding that your team members have both a personal and professional life. It doesn’t mean you have to get deep into their personal affairs. This might look like saying, “You mentioned your kids were sick last week. How is everything?”

Perhaps a team member asks for time off to take an ailing parent to a doctor’s appointment. Empathy means you show understanding and support. However, it doesn’t mean you allow the team to neglect their responsibilities.

A conversation might sound like this. “Absolutely, I want you to do what you need to take care of your family. Your family is top priority. AND, let’s have a conversation about the project you’re working on so we can make sure it doesn’t slip through the cracks. How I can best support you?”


3. Work Accountability. The most empathetic leaders support their team members when they make mistakes, but they don’t let them slide.

Is this empathy? Yes. This is believing in your people. It’s about seeing their highest potential and caring enough to bring out the best in them. People want to live up to your belief in them. Keep the bar raised high.

Your people want you to call them out when they fall short. How do I know? They tell me. In my leadership workshops, leaders tell me their world’s best boss supported them when they made mistakes, but also held them accountable. Leaders made certain that team members learned from their mistakes before moving on.

If you want the best from those around you, hone your skills as an empathetic leader. It will be well worth the investment.


Want to become the “World’s Best Boss”? Understanding the personality traits of your team members is a great way to start. Check out my DISC personality assessment and learn how to connect more effectively with your team.

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