Get All Access for $5/mo

5 Methods for Getting to the Heart of the Empathetic Leader Empathy helps ensure that your employees are happy, productive and likely to stay.

By Bob Kulhan Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Which is more important as a leader: the head, the wallet or the heart? Trick question: all three.

Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures

Oddly, many leaders view their success in terms of personal financial growth, status and increased company profitability. In doing so, many struggle with or ignore how to connect, engage and show empathy to the people they lead.

If the old adage "People don't quit jobs, they quit people" is true, then there are huge benefits in leading a company where employees feel cared for, respected and understood. So, given our overall workplace culture, where taking the time to connect personally is seen as a distraction from getting business done, how can you add more empathy to your leadership style without sacrificing productivity?

Here are a few simple methods we've developed at Business Improv to help our clients lead more empathetically. With this list, I've seen leadership styles transform and relationships strengthen, and witnessed the great personal and organizational benefits that resulted.

1. Be present in the moment.

Being in the moment is at the heart of a connection with someone, which is the root of all great relationships. The stronger your relationships, the stronger your team is. Additionally, by being present, in the moment, you're more aware of how all parts of your team are functioning. As a result, when you witness your team struggling, it's not just another sign that you're going to miss your deadline; it can be an invitation to change the way you get to the deadline, allowing you to create something better along the way.

2. Maintain eye contact.

It's important to connect with the person you're talking to; that's why eye contact is so crucial. It shows you are present and giving your full attention to the person you are talking with, and only him/her.

Related: 10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders

3. Really listen.

There's a big difference between hearing what your employees and peers are saying to you, and really listening. Are you hearing only what your employees have and haven't accomplished, or are you taking the time to understand what they need and how they could be better supported better?

4. Repeat back, so employees know they're heard.

A question clients frequently bring to us is, "How [do I really listen?]" One of the best ways to test your listening skills is to simply repeat the core concepts just brought to you, back to the person who delivered them. The result is that employees know they've been heard, and feel respected and valued, which makes them more likely to tell you crucial operational info instead of keeping silent when problems arise. So, make sure to repeat back those core concepts.

5. Focus on what someone else wants.

Most successful leaders are driven in large part by a desire for, you guessed it, success. However, focusing too much on your individual success can wreak havoc on your personal life, productivity and leadership abilities. To be a strong leader you need a culture that goes beyond the success of your personal business identity. There are lots of successful companies out there. What will keep your employees from jumping ship every time they get a better offer if they don't have a connection to the company beyond their paycheck? By focusing on what others in your team really want, you invite your employees and peers to share in something bigger than you -- you invite them to share in "us"!

The heart of leading with empathy, then, isn't just about self-improvement -- it's practical. Being present, in the moment and focusing on others, makes you a more flexible and perceptive leader. The enhanced communication you get from empathetic listening leads to greater connection, a more engaged team and fewer conflicts.

You'll be surprised at the great difference you'll see when you apply these simple principles to your leadership style, and you'll be well on your way to having "head, wallet and heart" all covered.

Related: The Single Hardest Thing You'll Do as a Business Owner

Bob Kulhan

Adjunct Professor at Duke Fuqua School of Business; President, CEO & Co-Founder, Business Improv

Bob Kulhan is an adjunct professor of business administration for The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, as well as a guest professor at Columbia Business School and UCLA Anderson School of Management. He also is the CEO of Business Improvisations, which develops experiential learning programs for businesses. For 21 years, Kulhan has performed and taught improvisation internationally. His consulting and teaching work focuses on leadership, influence and managerial improvisation. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.

Business News

Sony Pictures Entertainment Purchases Struggling, Cult-Favorite Movie Theater Chain

Alamo Drafthouse originally emerged from bankruptcy in June 2021.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.


Are Your Business's Local Listings Accurate and Up-to-Date? Here Are the Consequences You Could Face If Not.

Why accurate local listings are crucial for business success — and how to avoid the pitfalls of outdated information.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

'Passing By Wide Margins': Elon Musk Celebrates His 'Guaranteed Win' of the Highest Pay Package in U.S. Corporate History

Musk's Tesla pay package is almost 140 times higher than the annual pay of other high-performing CEOs.