Ask A Coach: How do leaders model empathy in their role?

Sue Matson ’77

"Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.”  
                            -Roman Krznaric, Philosopher and Author

Empathy starts with a “feeling,” but doesn’t end there. It requires action. Empathic leaders respond when a team member needs support, but they don’t wait to be asked. As Krznaric says, they “step imaginatively” into the emotional lives of their colleagues to understand how to help them be as happy and productive as possible.

Empathic leaders…

  • Ask questions to draw people out. They don’t assume they know how a person is feeling.
  • Listen attentively to understand and pick up cues about what is being felt and thought, as well as said. They then confirm that understanding with the other person.
  • Have the courage to explore and discuss feelings. Talking about feelings is not something leaders are trained to do, and it may be uncomfortable. For many, it takes real courage to “go there.”
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Determine with the team member what actions the leader should or shouldn’t take to address the situation.
  • Act as agreed and follow up with the team member to be certain the situation is improving.

Sue (Carey) Matson ’77 is an Executive Coach & Leadership Consultant and also coaches in the Notre Dame Alumni Association’s Career Coaching Program

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