Sympathy and empathy are two words that oftentimes are used synonymously but actually have very different meanings. Being empathetic is an attribute that will serve you well throughout your leadership journey, as opposed to just being sympathetic.
Empathy, along with being Self-Aware, are antidotes to the three No-Øs of Leadership, which are the focus of my new book. Empathy is so much more powerful than being sympathetic as it puts yourself in someone else’s shoes rather than just feeling sorry for someone’s situation.
Dr. Brene’ Brown, a New York Times best selling author and leading expert on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy gives this description: “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
For a minute, imagine that you have fallen into a well and you’re trapped at the bottom. The person who has sympathy looks over the top of the well and from afar, they let you know how sorry they are that you are in such a predicament. Whereas, the person who has empathy crawls down into the well to join you, providing support however needed and then helps you to get out of the well.
A Leader Worth Following meets people where they are and can relate to what they’re going through on a personal level. So when people come to you with problems or challenges, as a leader, you need to be able to feel what they’re feeling and join them in their struggle. Whether it’s a frustration at work or other issues happening outside of the office.
Having the ability to truly understand people’s emotions and where they’re coming from is the mark of an authentic leader who will go much further in leading successful teams.
My hope for you is that empathy will become a regular, genuine practice as you continue on your leadership journey.