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Why are Empathy and Compassion Important in Leadership?

In the aftermath of the pandemic, while chaos still reigned, a compassionate leader was the need of the hour. Today, it is more important than ever for companies to hire managers and leaders capable of leading the company through good and challenging times. A good leader is a strong personality who encourages others. A good leader has courage, ambition to succeed and a clear vision of their goals. Also, good leader has all the leadership skills they use in the workplace.


According to Wikipedia, Leadership, both as a research area and as a practical skill, encompasses the ability of an individual, group or organization to "lead", influence or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations. The word "leadership" often gets viewed as a contested term. Also, leadership skills mean organising a group of people and directing them to achieve the company goals. For this, the leaders can use many methods like motivating their employees, leading them, and guiding them in every step towards their goals and objectives. Leadership skills help leaders to achieve their goals quickly.


There are many qualities in a leader, and some of those qualities are Empathy and Compassion. These qualities are essential not only for a leader but also for every human being. Empathy demonstrates your nature and ability to understand others. These qualities help a lot for the leader to understand their team and work with them. So in this article, we will learn about empathy and compassion and why they are essential in leadership.

  Content list     Facts and Figures:  

According to Forbes,


Employees take a lot of stress from work which affects their mental health.

  • A global study by Qualtrics found that 42% of people have experienced a decline in mental health. Specifically, 67% of people are experiencing increases in stress, while 57% have increased anxiety, and 54% are emotionally exhausted. 53% of people are sad, 50% are irritable, 28% have trouble concentrating, 20% take longer to finish tasks, 15% have difficulty thinking, and 12% are challenged to juggle their responsibilities.

So to deal with situations like this and make your employees comfortable at work, empathy and compassion can help you a lot.

  • 61% of employees with empathetic leaders reported being able to innovate, versus only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.
  • 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged, compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.
  • 57% of white women and 62% of women of color said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies. However, when they didn't feel that level of value or respect for their life circumstances, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of color said they were unlikely to consider leaving.
  • 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.
  • When people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they could navigate their work and life demands—successfully juggling their personal, family, and work obligations. This is compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.

Significance of Empathy and Compassion in Leadership


Empathy and compassion are essential for leadership, and they play a crucial role in the workplace. The inability to deal with stress and trauma can have disastrous effects on organizations. A company engulfed in collective fear and focused on the control will not be able to unleash the creativity and innovation required to navigate a crisis and emerge healthy on the other side.


Meanwhile, Simon Sinek proposes a concept of leadership in his book; Leaders Eat Last that has little to do with authority, management acumen, or even being in charge. Authentic leadership, according to Sinek, is about empowering others to achieve things they never thought possible. He defines exceptional organisations as those that "prioritise the well-being of their people, and in return, their people give everything they've got to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organisation."


Compassion is a virtue of positive intent and genuine concern for others. Empathy in leadership builds strong relationships between people. It improves collaboration, builds trust, and builds loyalty. In addition, studies have found that compassionate leaders are considered more substantial and more capable. Empathy is a critical element of servant leadership, and not all empathetic leaders practice servant leadership. This type of leader tries to understand their situation and the situation they are going through to provide support and help.


While working in the workplace, employees face stress, overwork, upcoming challenges and many more. It makes them frustrating, but empathy can be a powerful antidote for the employees and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams. Empathy positively impacts the employees, and yeah, it affects the outcome and results in the work. Every employee can work through their full potential if they have an empathetic leader who understands them and supports them. But if you don't have empathy and you always force your team to work, then probably your employees will get tired of you, which will affect the company's productivity.

  What is empathy  

Ability to imagine how the other person feels and thus understand their mood. According to Wikipedia, Empathy is the ability to understand or feel what the other person is experiencing through their context, the ability to put oneself in the other person's place. The definition of empathy includes a wide range of social, cognitive, and emotional processes that primarily relate to understanding others (and especially others' feelings). Empathy has cognitive empathy, emotional (or emotional) empathy, physical empathy, and spiritual empathy.

  What is compassion  

Compassion means understanding or pity for somebody who is suffering. Empathy motivates people to go their way to alleviate the physical, mental or emotional pain of others and themselves. Empathy is often considered sensitive to the emotional aspects of the suffering of others. While based on fairness, justice and interdependence, it can be regarded as rational.


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Why is it Important to Have Empathy and Compassion in Leadership?

  • Showing empathy builds trust in your team. Trust builds a competent, honest relationship with your colleagues. This will increase collaboration and productivity, but most importantly, reassure your team that their feelings are being taken care of.
  • Empathy also increases your presence in your leadership role. Responsibilities can be difficult and distracting, so showing empathy can increase your curiosity and teach you how to exercise restraint.
  • If you can show empathy, people will feel safe talking to you. This will give you a clear picture of how to listen and effectively manage your team.
  • It's a requirement for modern leaders who want their employees and organizations to navigate lasting success and a bright future for the company.
  • Creates an environment where the employees feel a greater sense of commitment to their organizations.
  • To make employees feel comfortable in the workplace, empathy and compassion must be the primary assets.

While explaining compassion's role in creating employee satisfaction, Robert Ferguson, a well-known author and professional values enthusiast, cited three companies.


Example 1- The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) is a significant healthcare provider in the United States. With over a hundred hospitals and many employees employed in the organization at multiple levels, the company has an excellent track record of providing a positive workplace.


Ferguson reported that the company's policies highlight the importance of treating clients and coworkers with compassion. This company advertises its emotionally rewarding work environment by stating it strives to treat everyone equally. This is an excellent tool to attract and retain employees.


Example 2- The Autism Research Institute (ARC) was founded as a Cambridge University (UK) initiative to raise autism awareness, promote early prevention, and conduct extensive research on the causes and treatment of autism. With scientists and professionals from all over the world contributing to this company, the ARC operates solely on the fundamentals of empathy and kindness.


In 2018, UnitedHealth Group Inc. ranked fifth in the Fortune 500 rankings as an American healthcare company. The UnitedHealth Group, with its massive turnover every year, has much to teach about compassionate leadership. It promotes kindness through its Tagline, "Walk in the shoes of people we serve and those we work."


Now, one would say that there's no way to be compassionate during layoffs. However, getting laid off amid a pandemic, when there are already many fears to contend with, can be devastating. So, yes, when laying off employees amid a pandemic, individual calls delivered with empathy, compassion, and respect are always appreciated.


How to Demonstrate Empathy and Compassion in Leadership?


We observed four characteristics that can help leaders find the empathetic voice to manage in crisis and shepherd their organisation into a postcrisis next normal. Begin by making space to understand better what is going on within and around you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable by lowering your guard and confronting what is happening. Demonstrate empathy to understand the emotions of others better and act compassionately to make individuals and groups feel genuinely cared for. Cultivate these qualities in a balanced manner by first tuning inward to understand and integrate your own emotions and fears and then turning outward to alleviate pain, support others, and, in time, empower people and businesses to recoup.


So now, if you've understood the importance of empathy and compassion in leadership, then it's time for you to implement these skills in the workplace environment. Your employees should always feel comfortable working and connect with you to maintain a balance between you and your employees. So here are some tips which can help you to implement or improve your empathetic skills.

  1. Be genuine  

While working with a team, you should be genuine or authentic. You have to gain the trust of your employees, and you can only get that by being authentic. You should make efforts to understand the employees from their point of view so that you will know about that employee's situation and abilities to work. Once you see the status of your employees, then you can support them to give their best to work, and that's how you'll create a meaningful relationship based on trust and transparency.

  2. Be present  

Being present as a leader means explaining and being a source of help and support. It is also possible to encourage them to stay.

  3. Be vulnerable  

When talking to team members, consider sharing your interests, experiences, obstacles, habits and ideas. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you can create opportunities to strengthen your relationship with employees and build trust. After that, they may find it convenient to share information that explains their habits and behavior in the workplace. You can use this information to suggest solutions to barriers or improve their productivity.

  4. Appreciation  

Identity is a great way to use empathy and ensure that employees are appreciated and respected. You can understand your employees for their performance, achieving objectives, or increasing efficiency and productivity at work. Appreciating your employees will boost their confidence and motivate them to work more effectively.

  5. Understand communication  

You should understand the communication styles between you and your employees. Non-verbal communication can indicate how employees feel when they do not verbalize their feelings or the reasons for their feelings. You can reduce the challenge of recognizing the problem by familiarizing yourself with non-verbal cues. This can help you create an effective strategy for contacting a troubled team member and asking how you can help.

  6. Support Global Managers  

For those working in global or cross-cultural organizations, the ability to be empathetic leaders who can collaborate across boundaries is essential. Leading a multicultural team requires cultural intelligence and the ability to understand people with wildly differing perspectives and experiences. Managers who practise empathetic leadership improve their effectiveness and increase their chances of success. Compassionate leaders are valuable assets to organizations because they can effectively build and operate relationships, which is a crucial component of leading organizations anywhere in the world.


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Should You Have Empathy and Compassion as a Leader?


Yes, of course.


We know that the working environment of the company can affect the employees. Many factors affect the employees, including work-life balance, work stress, work environment, other working employees' behaviour, boss's behaviour, etc.


These all things affect the productivity of the employee. For an excellent working performance, your employee should be completely comfortable with the work environment and feel free and happy.


Being an empathetic person or leader gives positive vibes to the employees. If you have an excellent professional relationship with your employees, then you can easily communicate with them about the work. You can understand what issues they are facing while working, and then you both can try to resolve that issues.


If your employees feel free to contact you, you'll know many things from their point of view that a ruthless leader can't understand.


After reading this article, we can conclude that,


Not only a skill but empathy and compassion are very important factors to have for a leader and a human being. It's very beneficial to the company because it gives a positive outcome and helps you understand your employees.


Let's just see an example of empathy and compassion.


There is company A and company B,


Company A's leader is empathetic, and he always supports and helps their employees; he tries to understand the employee's problems.


But opposite to this, Company B's leader or boss is so rude that he always forces their employees to achieve a given target; he puts a lot of pressure on his employees.


Now you say,


In which company would you like to work?


Yeah…And why did you choose company A?


Because as human beings, we like to work somewhere where we will feel free to work, where the environment will be comfortable and where people are empathetic and supportive. Just like in this example, the working environment affected your decision just like this. In reality, it affects the employees too.


So that's why empathy and compassion are essential in leadership.



  1. Should you have empathy for underperforming employees?  

If an employee is underperforming, there will be reasons for that. As an empathetic leader, you should talk with that employee, and you should try to understand their situation and try to resolve that. Having a good conversation with that employee will affect his performance. As a good leader, you should know how to deal with underperforming employees.

    2. Is empathy also sympathy?  

'Sympathy' is when you share another person's feelings, and 'empathy' is when you understand the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them.

  3. What are the types of empathy?  

There are three types of empathy.

  • Cognitive empathy - In this type of empathy, you try to understand the person's feelings and mentality and how the situations will affect them. You can know about them and can predict their future behaviors of them.
  • Somatic empathy - In this type of empathy, you create a physical reaction to another person's feelings.
  • Affective empathy - This type of empathy involves knowing and understanding the other person's feelings and experiences.
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