While leading people, how can you use empathy correctly?

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

Empathy is - simply said - recognizing emotions in others, and being able to "put yourself in another person's shoes" understanding the other person's perspective and reality.

Empathy means being able to connect with others and using it in the correct way, empathy definitely enhances better communication and teamwork.

In this sense, it is an essential characteristic and skill for leaders! In our technical and digital world, it is gaining more and more importance.

However, empathy can be used the wrong way. What often happens, when a leader is empathic and understands the perspective and problem of the employee... very often! The empathy doesn’t stop at that moment. Many leaders – when they have full understanding of the problem - take the problem on board, become the owner of it and start feeling responsible for the solution.

That is not the intention of empathic leadership! If it is overused in this way empathy can lead to dependent employees that – in the future – will no longer take responsibility. They become followers and will stay in a fixed mindset, without growing. This is not the effect you want from being empathic. As a leader you want people to take responsibility and develop in their jobs!

In order to achieve this, you can bring people in their – as we call it in neuroscience – growth mindset. This is the mindset of an active learner, open to new challenges, taking initiative and feeling responsible for their own thinking, feeling and acting. This mindset is the opposite of the fixed mindset, where people stop growing.

Although empathy is a great skill to connect constructively with your coworkers, using it the wrong way we can ensure that the employee comes into the fixed mindset of the follower. Too much helping hand prevents growth.

How to use empathy and make people grow?

The way you speak with your coworkers influences which mindset is activated. You can bring people in their growth mindset by continuously framing and asking questions. The framework you can use is often defined by the values ​​of the company and the objectives and rules that are linked to it. The questions you ask have to ensure that the other person thinks about solutions, initiatives and consequences and stimulates his or her personal thinking.

At the same time this questioning will help you to avoid becoming the owner of the problem and taking over responsibility.

Our brain is a super powerful organ and it is also a reactive organ. It reacts unconsciously to the environment. A small change in the behavior of leaders will simply ensure that the other person enters the growth mindset and develop own strategies for solving their problems at work and learn new skills.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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