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empathetic leadership

What does it mean to be an empathetic leader? Empathetic leadership is the ability to understand and relate to the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of those on your team. Leaders who have a high level of empathy are able to understand a situation from someone else’s perspective and react with compassion. This critical leadership skill can help improve employee retention efforts, build stronger working relationships, improve output, and generally improve overall organizational culture.

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For professionals in the marketing and creative space, being able to empathize and connect with target audiences is key to being successful. As such, it’s important that leaders in these industries emphasize empathy not only in their own management styles but as a core pillar in the work that their teams do.


Being an empathetic leader can have a profound positive impact on the individuals you manage. Echoeing the quote from Maya Angelou, people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. 

Knowing how to step outside of your own experiences to understand the challenges your employees face through an empathetic lens can help you learn about them as individuals. In doing so, you’ll also learn how you can better supervise – and support – them.

This type of people-first management approach can help reduce burnout and stress among your staff as well as foster a sense of belonging. When leaders empathize with their teams it shows employees that their concerns are being considered and that their managers care about them as human beings. Both can boost feelings of empowerment and loyalty – which are important for any organization or department looking to boost employee retention. 

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While empathy may come more naturally to some leaders, the ability to empathize is not a fixed trait and can be learned and developed over time.

Cognitive empathy considers the thought, “If I were in their position, what would I be thinking and doing right now?” Whereas emotional empathy considers, “Being in their position would make me feel _____?” However, truly emotionally intelligent leaders do more than just consider the thoughts and feelings of others. They take it one step further by expressing their concerns, asking directly about challenges, and then listening closely to what employees have to say.

Empathetic leadership can take many forms but some examples of how to lead with empathy include:

Watch for signs of stress and burnout: Empathy involves perceptiveness. Be clued into early signs that your employees may be experiencing burnout such as a sudden lack of engagement, becoming overly cynical or critical, and overall irritability or lack of patience. If you notice these signs, it’s wise to intervene sooner than later. But before broaching the subject with your employees, take a step back and look at that person’s workload or consider any personal factors that could be contributing to their stress. Taking those things into consideration, arrange a check-in with your employee to see how you can work together to resolve any simmering conflicts.  

Be mindful of how and when you deliver feedback: Feedback is a critical part of effective leadership but be mindful of how that feedback is shared. Just as it's important for your team members to understand where their work can be improved, it is equally important to celebrate a job well done. Further, creatives and marketers often take a lot of personal pride in their ideas and projects. Remember that there’s a distinct difference between criticism and constructive criticism.  

Check-in regularly: Frequent employee check-ins are important for leaders for a multitude of reasons but saving space in these meetings to get to know and better understand your employees is critical in being able to better empathize with them. While these meetings are good opportunities to discuss upcoming projects and timelines, you should also make time to discuss subjects beyond work. Eventually, your employees could come to see these discussions as a safe space to open up about personal and professional challenges and how those issues might be impacting their work. 

Understand crisis fatigue: Between world conflict, domestic issues, and the ongoing effects of the pandemic, people have a lot on their minds. While more personal challenges can certainly contribute to an employee’s stress level, sometimes it’s the many crises in the larger world around us. Staying mindful of how the (often upsetting) news of the day could impact your employees’ emotional health is also a part of being an empathetic leader.  

Demonstrate compassion and concern: Just as you might consider what your employees may be thinking or feeling, it is equally important to think about what can be done to relieve any potential stressors. Sometimes it’s as simple as checking in with employees to see how they’re doing after an illness, loss, or major life event and giving them time to talk about how they’re feeling. And sometimes it might involve taking more steps to help alleviate some of their stressors – at least as it pertains to work – whether that be added time off or flexibility around one’s work schedule. However, it’s important to note, empathetic leadership is not about employee coddling, rather it's about leaders being present, listening, showing genuine care, and helping problem-solve when asked. Leaders should also consider fairness here, if exceptions or special treatment is extended to one person due to personal issues, it must be extended to all.

Become an active listener: Being an active listener is core to becoming an empathetic leader.

Engaging in active listening by using all of your senses will help employees feel seen and heard. Active listening involves maintaining eye contact, avoiding interjections, being mindful of your body language, paying attention to nonverbal cues, and then repeating the crux of what you heard, acknowledging the person’s feelings, and asking relevant follow-up questions. 

Celebrating the good: While understanding and showing compassion towards employees’ challenges is a big part of empathetic leadership so is celebrating happier times as a team! This might involve celebrating a major life event, such as a wedding, new child, birthday, or graduation. It can also involve celebrating a professional milestone such as a work anniversary or successful product launch. Showing overall appreciation and recognizing employees can go a long way in building a more empathetic workplace.


While 24 Seven can’t help you lead your teams, we can help you build them. The specialized recruiters at 24 Seven have access to deep pools of highly skilled professionals in the marketing, creative, digital, fashion, beauty, and retail sectors throughout the country.

If your teams are struggling with workloads during busy seasons or crunch times, 24 Seven can help you source and hire short-term freelancers to lighten your core team’s load. Or if you need to bring aboard additional full-time employees to round out your team’s specialties, we are here to assist you! 

Contact a recruiter today!