Being Empathetic – Traits of a Good Leader

Exhibiting Empathy

What is the single most important thing that distinguishes a good leader from a bad one?

You will find numerous leaders around you – in your organization, in your country and even in your family. Leaders influence you and your actions and in some way becomes responsible for your goals in life. They pave the way to your career and show you the ways to achieving them.

It is the same in case of a bad leader too. He too would influence you to a great extent. But it is unlikely that you would look upto him. Perhaps because of his behavior. Is there something else as well that makes him different from a good leader?


It is empathy that distinguishes a good leader from a bad. That’s right.

Leadership houses on the foundation of empathy. I have quite often come across leaders, rather worked with leaders who are more focused towards getting things done or, achieving their individual goals in life. In doing so they would not be bothered about how their followers are feeling or, what they are going through. They would profess things that they would not have done in the wildest of their dreams.

A lot of leaders, after they become leaders forget the path that they have treaded en-route to their position. They forget the difficulties that they had faced. They start thinking as if they were never in the position that their followers were in. This brings in an “I am not bothered” approach in their behavior. People follow such leaders for some time, but gradually when they start feeling that their leader is not empathetic towards them, they start to move away from such leaders.

What is Empathy?

A bookish definition is not what I would want to present here as an answer to this question. What is real is empathy?

My manager walks up to me and says that he wants to spend some time with me. He sits with me and listens to what I have to say. He is transparent with me and understands and acknowledges everything that I am going through and speaks to me about all the changes, its impacts and the like. I start to feel that he is with me and is like me and that he understands me.

This is a situation, when I as an employee look up to my Manager as a leader – a leader who is empathetic towards me. We can quote a thousand different definitions for “empathy”, but what empathy actually means can only be explained by someone who has actually been touched with it.

For a manager to develop empathy, he has to come out of his shell. A manager has to get outside and spend time with his direct reports to understand his situation and develop a sense of empathy towards him. Spending time with your direct reports at his workstation is not what it means. Rather, you need to spend time with him at places where he is his actual self, where he behaves naturally. It is only then that you will be able to understand him in detail. Such interactions help you know what the real world and real environment is like. You need to be genuinely interested in your people.

At this juncture it is also important to understand the fact that merely spending time with them will not bring in empathy. You need to ensure that you bring back the evidence of this real world to your office.

It is not unnatural for all of us to get entangled in data, given the kind of tough environment that we work in. But what we need to take care off is that we are not forgetting how to empathize with our direct reports. You might have all other traits in you, but without empathy these traits are of no use and you would still be much far away from being a good leader.

Readers who are interested in formal study of leadership might try some courses from a masters in leadership program at an accredited university, for example, St Josephs University Online