Person reading book at outdoor cafe.
Empathy is one of the most essential attributes of a leader. Leaders who lack it often find themselves without anyone to lead. As a younger professional, I worked for people with a complete lack of empathy, which made me think that was how successful leaders should be. Being cutthroat and unsympathetic seemed to get them what they wanted.
Everything but self-respect, that is. The co-founder of my last company really opened my eyes to the importance of being empathetic. Through her, I came to understand how empathy not only plays a part in being a good leader, but also in being a good person. Without a connection to how others experience and feel things, we live in a bubble.
However, balance is much needed — being too empathetic can be a slippery slope to low performance. Being empathetic can’t mean a lack of accountability or turning a blind eye to the company’s needs.
If you can balance being an empathetic leader with bringing out the best in your team, that type of magic can make you a great leader today and in the future.
Flexing Your Empathy Muscle
Empathy doesn’t always come easy, of course. We could all use some inspiration, so check out these 12 books to learn to see things from the other side.
Mean People Suck: How Empathy Leads to Bigger Profits and a Better Life by Michael Brenner
Brenner confronts the biggest challenges from his 53 different jobs as a business owner and sales and marketing leader. In those various positions, he gained great insight into empathy’s role in success. His book tackles why people are dissatisfied at work; much of it comes down to the simple principle that mean people suck.
Some leaders believe they need to be mean to be effective. Their lack of compassion creates negative relationships, impacting performance and profits. Brenner offers real-life experiences and research that point to looking inward rather than blaming others. Learn why employees are unhappy — and how to use empathy to right the ship.
Do you question whether empathy is a matter of nature versus nurture? Dr. Reiss shares her conclusions about empathy based on neuroscience, suggesting that empathy isn’t only innate, but it’s also a skill we should all develop and enhance.
The book has been considered a definitive source on empathy, and it’s a perfect addition to any leader’s bookshelf. Empathy and emotional connections can seem like touchy-feely issues, but this book breaks down the actual science behind how and why we behave the way we do.
Mindsight: Transform Your Brain with the New Science of Empathy by Daniel J. Siegel
Mindsight seamlessly integrates brain science and psychotherapy. Mastering it could increase your self-awareness, allowing you to develop more profound empathy. Think of it as a master class to upskill your own ability to empathize with others.
To that end, this book is interactive and includes case studies from the author’s clinical practice. You’ll learn how to observe the inner parts of your mind, providing you with an understanding of how other people think, feel, and act.
The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal
Is selfishness the worst evil? More importantly, is being greedy and selfish innate to human nature? These are the questions posed by the author, and he believes that selfishness isn’t innate. We’re born to strive to belong within a group and make contributions to the greater good.
By studying social behaviors in animals, his book makes the case for empathy being a natural instinct. Could empathy actually be a means for survival? Read the book to determine whether this optimistic perspective is true — and whether you agree.
Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric
The author interviews a wide range of professionals, including actors, activists, designers, nurses, bankers, and neuroscientists. From these interviews, he determined there are six life-altering habits of those with high empathy.
The book offers a guide on how to connect with others genuinely, providing you with more happiness. It’s a good blend of the theoretical and the practical, ensuring you don’t just learn more about empathy but can actually apply your learnings.
Empathy curated by Harvard Business Review
Harvard Business Review collected multiple original articles about empathy and produced a book, offering others a glimpse into the human side of professional life. It provides readers with an Empathy 101-style overview, imparting what empathy is, why it’s important, and when it’s appropriate. It also offers a wide variety of perspectives on the subject, making it a good primer.
The Empathy Factor: Your Competitive Advantage for Personal, Team, and Business Success by Marie R. Miyashiro
Research in brain science, organizational theory, and emotional intelligence all support the author’s definition of empathy. But it’s not just a definition; the author looks closely at how it plays out in the office.
In this book, you’ll find practical insights on how to build empathy skills within the workplace. Exploring business productivity and office management, Miyashiro’s work offers a framework to help leaders meet their businesses’ six crucial needs while respecting the individuals within them.
Who knew that empathy could be a competitive advantage? The author makes just that case, declaring that caring about others translates to better products. He repositions the typical sales process, putting the customer at the center.
The author, a product designer, explains how you can gain a deep understanding of your buyers’ needs and feelings and then leverage that understanding to design products that will create genuine fans. This book will change the way you think about product development.
Dev Patnaik, a leading business strategist, insists people are wired to care. He thinks some of the most successful companies are as well. The book takes you inside big-name brands like Target, Intel, and IBM, allowing you to see how powerful empathy can be in a business context.
He explains that society would have unlimited potential if only we could all see the world through each other’s eyes. He then offers insights into how companies have given this skill more weight and influence.
The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill by Karla McLaren
This book suggests empathy is a part of human connection, allowing individuals who have it to be more successful. After all, people do business with people they like — and they like people who genuinely seem to understand them.
The book draws support from neuroscience, social psychology, and healing traditions. The Art of Empathy teaches you how to sincerely perceive and feel other people’s experiences, drastically improving your social and emotional life.
Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership by Michael Ventura
The author of this book — whose storied career includes time at Nike, Google, and the Obama administration — says empathy isn’t about being nice. It’s not about buying someone a new pair of shoes; it’s about walking alongside him so you understand what a mile in his shoes looks like.
The book offers real strategies for leveraging empathy to become a better leader. Leaders, of all people, are best positioned to both show empathy and inspire it in others.
The author puts forth the idea of the economics of empathy for life and business. As ethics and authenticity take center stage in today’s business exchanges, Sinha explains that empathy is a way of maintaining a conscience and being true to one’s beliefs.
He then offers actionable solutions for the changing business world, drawn from his years of experience in advertising and hospitality. The idea: Customers are changing, and without empathy, your brand won’t be able to keep up.
With these 12 books in your arsenal, you’ll be able to effectively enhance your empathy skills and build a strong, supportive culture among your team. Empathy may not always come naturally, but it’s a muscle we can most certainly strengthen.