Empathy in leadership is often talked about, but rarely is it as deeply understood or effectively implemented as in the insights shared by Pamela Mattsson, an experienced coach in executive leadership development. With her background at Amazon and her extensive experience in helping executives grow, Pamela delves into the nuances of empathetic leadership and its transformative impact on both leaders and their teams. 

Two male coworkers come to an agreement next to a white board filled with notes about marketing strategies

What is Empathetic Leadership? 

At its core, empathetic leadership is about genuinely understanding, resonating with, and considering the needs, fears, thoughts, and experiences of employees. Pamela defines it succinctly: “Empathetic leadership is leadership driven with the understanding and resonating with the needs, fears, thoughts, experiences of your employee base so that you’re making business decisions with that in mind.” 

This approach is not about making popular decisions; it’s about making informed and considerate decisions that acknowledge the human element in business operations. 

The Role of Empathy in Business 

In a compelling segment of the discussion, Pamela outlines how businesses often excel in empathy towards customers but tend to overlook its application towards employees. She emphasizes that, especially in markets demanding efficiency and output, taking the time for empathy might seem slow or counterintuitive, yet it’s crucial. Empathy builds trust, and trust is foundational for eliciting the best effort from teams. 

Integrating Empathy with Business Strategy 

One of the most striking points Pamela makes is about the necessity of integrating empathy with strategic business goals, rather than viewing it as a secondary or soft skill. She explains, “Empathetic leadership is the art of getting the most out of your one of your most important assets — your talent base. In this market of organizational efficiencies and economies of scale, you need discretionary effort. You don’t get access to discretionary effort from your employee base if they don’t trust you.” 

This trust is cultivated through empathetic leadership, which in turn, fosters an environment where employees feel seen, heard, and valued beyond mere transactional interactions. 

Empathy: A Skill and a Strategy 

Empathy is described not just as a feeling but as a strategic component integral to leadership success. Pamela advocates for viewing resistance and challenging questions from teams as an opportunity to include and engage rather than as obstacles. This perspective shift can turn potential conflicts into moments of insight and inclusion, enhancing the overall decision-making process. 

A businessman stands before a team of twenty coworkers, leveraging his business acumen to drive change as he speaks.

The discussion with Pamela not only highlights the importance of empathy in leadership but also redefines it as a crucial strategic tool that can and should be developed and refined. In business, where results are paramount, empathetic leadership proves to be a powerful approach to achieving those results while also nurturing a loyal, innovative, and highly motivated workforce. This dialogue serves as a reminder that the best leaders are not just those who drive hard bargains but those who acknowledge the soul behind the role, leading with both vision and compassion.