How To Lead With More Functional Empathy™





Minou Hexspoor




How To Lead With More Functional Empathy™

Empathy is a personality trait some people possess naturally. Functional Empathy goes further than that: Empathy is not only a trait, but also a value you can consciously lead from, and a skill-set that can be learned, strengthened, and actively practiced. In this article, we will share some important pointers for becoming a (more) empathic leader, which will benefit both you and your co-workers.


      1. Be open-minded

      Do you want to be a leader who sticks to their own plan and always does things in the same way, or do you want to be a leader who is open to other opinions, allowing them and yourself to continuously learn and grow professionally? Exactly. An empathic leader is open-minded: meaning you are open to learning and focus on discussing new ideas and making innovative improvements. You can become more open-minded by inviting others to share their opinions and present their ideas to you, so that you can learn from them.

      2. Pay attention

      Building a great bond with your team is essential as an empathic leader, but don’t forget that you are, in fact, still their leader. Therefore, it is your job to be alert to the state of all your team members and the dynamics between them. To do that properly, you’ll want to pay careful attention, and signal any red flags before things get out of hand or start living as life of their own. When something seems off, bring it to the attention, discuss it and address it as a team. This will help you take the lead and bring out the best of all your team members whilst strengthening their bond with each other, as well.

      3. Search for the ‘why’

      An instinctive reaction people have is to judge someone based on our own interpretations of others’ actions, words, and behaviour. That is the way we determine what we think of someone and whether their actions are in line with our expectations. Therefore, it can be very easy to judge someone, especially when you don’t know the whole story. As an empathic leader, though, you absolutely don’t want to judge. Being judged won’t help your team members feel heard and appreciated. So, instead of making a quick judgment, search for the ‘why’: what reason do they have for doing, saying or behaving this (way)? Being open to what they have to say will not just improve your bond with them, it will also help you gain a broader perspective.

      4. Lead the way

      People are social beings. That means that they thrive and survive thanks to social contact and, therefore, will invest in their social relations to make sure they don’t lose them. One way of doing that is by learning from the behaviour of those they value and look up to. Do you want your team members to be empathic towards each other? Lead the way and set an example by interacting with your team members in the way you’d want them to interact with each other. This is enormously encouraging for the team and will help you build better team bonds.

      5. Engage in conversation

      There is a huge difference between listening to someone and engaging with someone. As an empathic leader, you want to do the latter. Not just because your team members will value it, but also because it can improve the team’s achievements. Therefore, really engage in conversations by taking time for people, really listening and asking questions. In short, show a genuine interest in your team members instead of superficial conversation.

      6. Be inclusive

      Being an empathic leader means including everybody – yes, absolutely everybody. In other words, try not to make a distinction between the various team members in your team, regardless of their functions or standing. A trainee is just as important as a senior consultant, since they can both contribute to the team in their own, valuable ways. If you make them feel that way and continue to include everyone as equally as their respective jobs will allow you to, everyone will feel valued and included and, therefore, more motivated to make their contribution to the team.

      7. Manage expectations

      There is nothing more discouraging for team members than being kept in the dark. Not knowing what is going on – especially when important decisions involving the whole team/company are being made behind the scenes – is enormously demotivating and can create some serious chaos in the workplace. To prevent your team from stressing out and derailing itself, keep them informed to the best you can to help them deal better with any discomfort that might await them. Keeping them informed and expressing that you understand their concerns will make you a better (empathic) leader, since your team members know that they can trust you and that they can approach you whenever they are feeling uneasy.


      8. Don’t neglect yourself

      Being a leader – especially an empathic one – does not just mean that you are there for your team members all the time, it means taking care of yourself as well. If you neglect yourself and drain your energy by investing in others, you won’t be able to hold up and, therefore, will not be able to help others the way you want to. Also, if you can’t set boundaries and stand up for yourself, it will be much more difficult to do so for others. Being in a beneficial state of wellbeing will not just help you feel better, it will also improve your work relations and accomplishments. So, make sure that you schedule enough me-time, such as going on walks, taking a bath, sleeping well and spending quality time with friends and family. Your team members will thank you!


      We hope these tips will help you become a more empathic person and, therefore, a more empathic leader! One way to start practically integrating more empathy into the way you lead, is to start with one of the above options, and consciously focus your attention on it with your team. Once you feel it is starting to be part of how you do things, pick up the next one. It can be an amazing transformation for you and you team.

      If you or your organization need support and professional development to help develop your empathic skills or establishing yourself as a leader, just reach out to us and we will get you on your way! Follow us here: Functional Empathy

      Minou Hexspoor – Founder of Functional Empathy™ – Life & Leadership Coach/Consultant