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How to Become a Better Leader

Posted by Nadia Goodman | August 1, 2012

How to Become a More Empathic Leader

As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for building an effective team and enabling your employees to do their best work. To do that successfully, you need to cultivate empathy, or the ability to imagine yourself in another's shoes.

"For leaders in particular, empathy means understanding how you come across to others and how you're perceived by others," says Robert Sutton, Stanford professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss (Business Plus, 2010). "It also means understanding others' strengths and weaknesses, as well as what motivates them."

Sutton describes one CEO who convinced two arrogant, uncooperative employees to be rewarded based on individual performance alone. If anyone helped them out, their pay would be docked. By the end of the experiment, they had each lost a substantial amount of money and realized how much they rely on others to do their best work. "She was aware of what motivated them and aware of their blind spots," Sutton explains.

Awareness about ourselves and others is difficult to gain. "Power makes it worse," Sutton adds. We naturally pay more attention to people who are above us in the social hierarchy, so those at the top have to be aware of that bias in order to overcome it.

No matter your current level of empathy, your skills can improve with practice. Here's how to get started:

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