Empathy and Leadership

  By Brad Bell

Leadership involves the development and implementation of plans and strategies to achieve positive results for an organization.   What are the attributes of a leader that may help to achieve positive results?    In this article, I will argue that empathy is a key attribute that helps a leader to achieve positive results.

Empathy can be conceptualized as the ability to understand and vicariously experience what another person is experiencing.   If you are experiencing empathy, you see things from the person’s perspective, and experience the same emotional state as the person.  

Greater empathy in a leader may foster effective leadership for a number of reasons.   In this article, I will present two possible reasons.   First, greater empathy may increase altruistic motivation, and greater altruistic motivation may lead to making more decisions that reflect the common good.   Second, increased empathy in a leader may increase the leader’s helping behavior, which in turn, may lead to helping behaviors becoming the norm in the organization.                                  

Altruistic Motivation and the Common Good

A person can be described as altruistically motivated if the person is motivated to help others.  Feeling empathy may increase altruistic motivation.   Empathy may foster concern for the welfare for another person.   If a person is altruistically motivated, the person may be more likely to make decisions that reflect the common good of the organization. The person may make a greater effort at finding win-win solutions, and have a greater understanding of what would reflect the common good.

 Making decisions that reflect the common good of the organization can be considered to be an indication of effective leadership.   If a decision reflects the common good, then many people in the organization may be happy with the decision. 

Helping Behavior and Norms

 Greater empathy may increase helping behavior.   Einolf (2008) found that empathic concern was positively correlated with some helping behaviors (e.g., giving to a charity).   However, because these findings are correlational, one cannot make causal conclusions  from the findings.

If a leader is more helpful, then others in the organization may also increase their helping behaviors. This may reflect observational learning.  Eventually, helping behaviors may become the norm in the organization.  This could result in more cooperation, and more cooperation in an organization may result in being able to achieve more positive outcomes.


 Einolf, C. J. (2008). Empathic concern and prosocial behaviors: A test of experimental results using survey data.  Social Science Research, 37, 1267-1279.

Why Is Empathy Important?

By Brad Bell

Empathy may be one of the most important attributes.  Empathy involves being able to see things from another person’s perspective, as well as being able to feel what another person feels.  There may be several reasons why empathy is important.  These reasons include building rapport, reducing conflicts, and increasing helping behavior.

Building Rapport

Expressing empathy may be an effective way of building rapport.  People may wish to feel understood. Thus, expressing empathy may increase liking.  Also, if a person express empathy they may be trusted more.  This may be true because they perceive the person as more caring.   

Reducing Conflicts

Some conflicts may result from failing to see things from another person’s perspective.  This may result in hurt feelings. Stating that one understand and appreciate another person’s perspective may result in the person feeling better about the situation.  This may reduce or resolve the conflict.

Increasing Helping Behavior

There may be a number of motives for helping behavior.  One of the motives is the joy of helping others, and this may reflect feeling empathy.  This expression of empathy may involve understanding the person’s situation, and feeling what the other person feels in the situation.