Empathy Is at the Core of Sustainable and Effective Leadership

Empathetic leadership means recognizing other’s needs and genuinely understanding their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. This kind of leadership creates a warm, inclusive environment where everyone feels respected and understood.

Empathy used to be seen as an unimportant “soft skill.” However, as workplaces become more diverse, understanding and connecting with people from different backgrounds is extremely important. Empathy helps create a positive and productive environment for everyone.

Leaders who focus on understanding each team member can use everyone’s unique talents and viewpoints. This allows for more innovation and helps the organization succeed.


The Power of Empathy: Driving Positive Organizational Change

Empathy is helpful during tough times, when people feel burned out, or when looking for fulfillment at work. Studies show that empathy has significant positive effects in the workplace. It can greatly benefit employees and the entire organization.1

  • Innovation: Employees who perceived their leaders as empathetic were significantly more inclined to report their ability to innovate. Specifically, 61 percent of these employees felt capable of innovation, compared to only 13 percent of those whose leaders were perceived as less empathetic.
  • Engagement: 76 percent of individuals who felt empathy from their leaders reported higher levels of engagement. In comparison, 32 percent reported lower levels of engagement when experiencing less empathy.
  • Retention: Retention rates were higher among white women and women of color when they felt their companies respected and valued their life circumstances—57 percent white women and 62 percent women of color reported being unlikely to leave. But when they did not feel this level of support, 14 percent of white women and 30 percent of women of color expressed reluctance to leave.
  • Inclusivity: Half of the individuals under empathetic leadership stated that their workplace promotes inclusivity, whereas 17 percent of those under less empathetic leadership felt the same way.
  • Work-Life Balance: Individuals who perceived their leaders as more empathetic reported an 86 percent success rate in managing the demands of both their professional and personal lives, balancing work responsibilities with personal and family obligations. In contrast, 60 percent of individuals who felt less empathy reported a similar experience.


When leaders use empathy, challenges become opportunities to grow. Difficult moments help build resilience and lead to shared success for everyone.

Leading with Heart: Integrating Empathy into Leadership Practices
Becoming a more authentic and empathetic leader takes dedication and commitment. If you want to lead with empathy, many strategies and practices can help nurture empathy in your leadership style.

Related Reading: 6 Qualities That Make a Great Call Center Agent


Engage in active listening.

Active listening involves more than just hearing words—it requires genuinely understanding other people’s perspectives, feelings, and messages. Instead of planning your response or thinking ahead, focus on giving your full attention without interruption or judgment. This skill is crucial for empathetic leadership because it starts with listening.

For example, a call center agent faces difficult customer interaction. An empathetic leader can actively listen by stepping in, de-escalating the situation, and offering support to the agent afterward. This demonstrates a sincere interest in understanding and supporting team members.

There are many ways you can improve your active listening skills, such as:

  • Maintain eye contact to show attentiveness and engagement.
  • Pose open-ended questions to encourage deeper conversation and understanding.
  • Use nonverbal cues, like nodding or leaning forward, to indicate interest and understanding.
  • Reflect on and summarize the speaker’s main points to demonstrate your understanding and encourage further discussion.


Stay fully attentive.

One of the challenges of implementing empathy is staying fully attentive. An empathetic leader practices attentive listening when talking, not getting distracted by checking the time, looking around, or using their phone. It means giving their full attention.

When someone is speaking, the empathetic leader listens. Especially when the other person is expressing emotions, you remain fully present, understanding their experience. The focus is on understanding their perspective and considering ways to offer support and assistance.


Embrace the idea of being vulnerable.

As a leader, it’s important to recognize that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. It’s surprising how the idea that a good leader should be distant, unemotional, and robotic has persisted for so long. A leader who can relate to employees on a genuine, human level is much more effective.

For instance, leaders might share their own experiences with challenging customer interactions. This demonstrates vulnerability, acknowledges the job pressures, and cultivates a sense of shared experience among agents.

This is supported by Gartner’s study, which revealed a 37-percentage point increase in employee engagement among those who view their leader as human compared to those who do not.2

Being open about challenges and admitting mistakes makes a leader more relatable and approachable. It breaks down barriers and humanizes their role. Leading by example through vulnerability can also promote a culture of openness and honesty. It creates a workplace where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns without fearing judgment.

Related Reading: 4 Ways to Create a Culture That Supports Call Center Agents’ Mental Health


Drop all forms of judgment.

Empathetic leaders avoid making judgments, even when others’ emotions clash with theirs. They consciously release biases and remain receptive to alternative viewpoints. As an empathetic leader, one doesn’t categorize others’ feelings as right or wrong but sees them as insights into their perspectives and worldviews. It’s an opportunity to understand their experiences and expressions better.

Show genuine interest.

Empathetic leaders don’t just care about what employees do at work but also about who they are as individuals. They take a personal interest in their lives, asking about their challenges, families, and goals. This genuine concern creates a deeper connection and trust between the leader and their team.

For example, scheduling regular one-on-one meetings to discuss performance, well-being, and career goals. This shows employees that they are valued as people, not just metrics.

However, when a leader lacks empathy, team members often hesitate to share their thoughts and feelings openly. They may perceive interactions as transactional and impersonal, leading to isolation within the team.


Stay open to change.

Change is bound to happen, so the capacity to adjust isn’t a choice—it’s a necessity. Adaptable leaders effectively handle changing circumstances. They acknowledge that things might not always go according to plan but maintain a constructive outlook. They can deal with stress, resistance, and concerns.

An emotionally rigid leader might shut down discussions, but an emotionally flexible one adapts the approach and finds creative solutions. For instance, if someone needs more time to meet a deadline, a flexible leader will accommodate it and form a backup plan.


Be an effective communicator.

Be an effective communicator.
Empathetic leaders prioritize transparent communication where the intentions behind their words and actions are understood. They also consistently clarify the reasons for their decisions. They encourage their team to share concerns without hesitation and are always available. They ensure everyone knows what they need to do by articulating their goals clearly.


Show your commitment.

Becoming more empathetic isn’t a sudden transformation that happens with a single decision. It is gradual over time. It demands a consistent dedication to understanding others’ perspectives and emotions and a firm commitment to maintaining the right mindset.

This means actively practicing empathy in daily interactions, being open to learning from experiences, and continuously reflecting on one’s attitudes and behaviors. That way, little by little, you’ll find yourself becoming more empathetic and building stronger connections with those around you.

Read More: Empowering Workforce Well-being: 5 Strategies to Align Company Culture with Employee Mental Health



Salem Solutions is passionate about helping organizations create an empathetic workplace. We take the time to understand your values and goals to find the right candidates for your team. Let us assist you in building a supportive, inclusive workplace for your team. Contact us today to find leaders who can foster empathy in your workplace.


1 PhD, Tracy Brower. “Empathy Is the Most Important Leadership Skill according to Research.” Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2021/09/19/empathy-is-the-most-important-leadership-skill-according-to-research/?sh=77785f953dc5.

2 “Gartner HR Research Identifies Human Leadership as the next Evolution of Leadership.” Gartner, www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/06-23-22-gartner-hr-research-identifies-human-leadership-as-the-next-evolution-of-leadership. 


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