Why empathic leadership is more crucial than ever

Liz Walker | 3rd February 2022 |

With numerous examples of poor leadership from our government on a daily basis, it has made me question what it is that really matters and what truly will inspire and unite people to drive a business forward.

It surprises me how often I read about leadership and hear statements like ‘empathy is the most important leadership skill’, as if it’s something new. Surely as compassionate humans, empathy is not something we can switch on and off – we have to understand the needs of others to have any chance of helping them achieve happiness and success in their work.

Authentic leadership

I think it’s becoming increasingly important in the modern working world to be an authentic leader, and empathy will always be an essential element of that. Given the current situation with the pandemic, our working lives have evolved. In terms of leadership, at Distinctly, we’ve made it even more of a priority to focus on our people – putting their needs first and empowering them to do their best work. Whilst offering flexibility and a host of other great benefits is now a given, it’s more about creating space for development and personal growth.

The impact of stress

Stress is a complex and pervasive factor in all of our lives and it’s important not to underestimate how that can impact working life. It’s widely reported that stress has increased during the pandemic, in spite of more freedom to work when, and from where, we choose. Our ability to shape our working lives around our home lives should make things easier, but it takes a lot of discipline to maintain boundaries.

This is where leading with empathy is paramount. Through active listening and understanding, we can help rebalance these challenges to really bring out the best in individuals and for teams as a whole. Tough times, if accompanied by proper support, can lead to better outcomes. Whilst chronic stress can be crippling, stress can be an energiser if it’s channelled correctly, sparking innovation and creativity.


Leading by example means showing our human side. Being able to show vulnerability is the opposite of weakness: it shows a strength of character. Leading with humility can result in greater trust and strong relationships, so should not be underestimated.

Some of this may not come naturally but looking at these areas can help:

  • Self-reflection
  • Trusting in your instincts
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Responding to feedback
  • Disrupting – presenting strong opinions and allowing others to disagree

When you’re trusted by others to lead and deliver, basic human emotions can make the difference between mediocrity and high performance. Empathy, authenticity and vulnerability are just some of the traits that drive the powerful, very human relationships behind high-performing teams. 

Current leadership in the UK proves that being economical with the truth and lacking any real opinion can only get you so far. True leadership is about having the ability to connect with people and empowering them to reach their full potential.

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