How Empathy Builds Leadership Qualities

Empathy is a dying art but key to enhancing leadership qualities.

Life is so loud and distracting that it becomes harder to sense what is going on around us. The less we are aware in the moment, the harder it is to tune into other people’s feelings and intentions.

Empathy Builds Leadership Qualities

Empathy Enhances Leadership Qualities

Yet empathy is one of the most important leadership qualities. It will improve all your leadership conversations and your ability to influence and manage change.

Empathy is critical to knowing what reflections to share and what questions to ask that will help people change their minds. To work with people who are stuck or resistant, you need to hear much more than what they are telling you with words. The more you can sense what people really want and need when they can’t find the words for themselves, the more effective you will be as a leader. The good news is that even though our capacity for empathy is shrinking, as humans we have the ability to regain and expand our empathy.

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Practical tips to enhance leadership qualities:

1. Become an emotional observer.

Commit to spending 15 minutes every day watching people in meetings or social settings where you don’t have to talk, including when you eat in public or when waiting in line. What emotions are people expressing? What is triggering their emotions? What do they need beyond what they are asking for? What is stopping them from asking for what they most desire? Don’t analyze their words. Just write down what you sense the person is experiencing without assessing if you are right or wrong..

2. Ask yourself what you are feeling.

Emotions are contagious. We have particular neurons that mirror and actually trigger the same emotions in ourselves. You have experienced this watching a movie where you feel what the characters on the screen feel. Recognizing these reactions requires you teach your brain to access and label your emotions. Set your phone or computer to remind you to stop two or three times a day and name the emotion you are feeling. Try to guess why you are feeling that emotion. As a result of expanding your emotional awareness, you naturally increase your capacity for empathy.

3. Listen with your entire nervous system.

Sensing signals you receive from your heart and gut can be called using your intuition which is essential to any list of leadership qualities. You will pick up different cues when listening from your head (beliefs/assumptions), your heart (desires/loss of dreams and hope), and your gut (fear/ courageous impulses). When you listen from your head, heart, and gut, your reflections and questions are more spontaneous and profound. Use guided visualization and specific emotions to sense yourself opening at all three centers. Feel curiosity as you see your mind become clear and open. Then move your awareness down your body to your heart. Think of someone you deeply care about. Feel gratitude and compassion as you see and feel your heart open. Then move your awareness down to your center just below your navel. Feel courage as you breathe in and feel your gut get stronger and open to possibilities. Now listen to someone with all three centers open. When you feel uncomfortable, listen more deeply from your gut. When you feel impatient or judgmental, focus on reopening your heart.

Empathy is s natural human function. You just need to pay attention and be willing to believe what you sense. Expand your empathy to strengthen all of your leadership qualities and conversations.

Order Marcia’s latest book The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs,  here.

If your leaders need to develop empathy contact 3Plus NOW for our leadership development programs



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Dr. Marcia Reynolds is fascinated by the brain, especially what triggers enthusiasm and innovation. She stays weaves together three areas of expertise: organizational change, coaching and emotional intelligence.

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