Empathy – the most important leadership trait today?

In an interview in November 2013, Emotional Intelligence expert Daniel Goleman was asked : ‘What do you believe is the most important, yet overlooked, leadership trait today?’

His answer : “Perhaps it’s empathy, noticing what the other person thinks and feels. This requires we pause and pay full attention to the person in front of us – a simple act that has become more rare as we are beseiged by increases in digital distractions.” He went on to say:

“The most effective leaders are outstanding at abilities that build on empathy…like

persuasion and influence, motivating and listening, teamwork and collaboration.’

In his December 2013 HBR article titled ‘The Focused Leader’, Goleman elaborates on empathy further, detailing 3 kinds of empathy :

empathy spotlight












How do you demonstrate empathy in the workplace?

  • Do you deliberately consider the impact on others that may result from your decisions – and how it might feel to them?
  • Are you deliberate in your communications putting your message in terms that resonate?
  • Do you seek the contributions of others, encouraging collaborations and connections?
  • Do you seek first to understand, talking less and listening more?
  • Do you calmly respond to situations of conflict, taking time to understand what might be ‘true’ in the other person’s eyes?
  • Do you demonstrate empathetic concern by sensing what your people need from you?
  • Do you resist giving the answer and take the slower route to help someone with their thinking and discover for themselves?
  • Do you show you care, by respectfully enquiring about a personal challenge?
  • Or take the time to call someone who has been travelling for work to check they made it home ok?

Empathy can take many forms. Understanding the perspective of another, feeling what they may feel, and sensing what they need from you.


And sometimes people just want you to listen…click here for a link to an amusing but relevant video entitled ‘It’s not about the nail’.