Tag Archive: sympathy

Empathy: A Specific Kind Needed For Leadership


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It’s one thing for a leader to understand another’s feelings (emotional empathy), but a leader who can also sense what others need from them, well, that’s effective leadership and ministry.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the helpful information regarding the mental side of leadership curated from Daniel’s Goleman’s article for the Harvard Business Review, The Focused Leader.

His article unpacked three kinds of empathy needed to be a good leader. You’ll be familiar with at least one or two kinds of empathy, but the third, at least by name, may be unfamiliar.

This “empathy triad” Goleman presents shows how leaders can provide three distinct kinds of empathy:

Cognitive empathy– the ability to understand another person’s perspective;

Emotional empathy—the ability to feel what someone else feels;

And finally, the one I want to focus on–

Empathetic concern—the ability to sense what another person needs from you.

A good leader will not only discern how people feel, but also discern what a person needs from you. Goleman suggests this is the kind of empathy we want in our doctors, spouse, and yes, our boss.

Most people appreciate when a boss or leader asks: “how can I help you?” or “what do you need from me to be successful?”

Wouldn’t it be great if your boss already knew what you needed because they were in tune with your concern, thus, empathetic concern?

Think of someone you lead. The last time they came to you with a problem to be solved, were you aware of what they needed? While listening, were you able to discern they needed an idea? An answer? Collaboration? Reassurance? A firm directive?

It’s not only about knowing their preferred language, but about what’s happening in their life that might influence their need-factor. Their life’s extenuating circumstances may heavily influence the reasons they’re before you and what they’re actually wanting/needing from you.

A leader who shows ability within the empathy triad will be a trusted leader. A leader people want to follow.

Developing Empathetic Concern requires a leader to:

  • Listen well (to people in varying areas in the organization or church);
  • Seek information;
  • Be emotionally intelligent;
  • And to care about others.

It takes time to develop this skill. But here’s one practical takeaway for everyday church leadership, you can put into action the next time you sit across the table form someone who’s sharing frustration –

Not only listen well and try to feel what they’re feeling (emotional empathy), but ask yourself, “What am I sensing this person might need from me”.


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