What does it mean to be an empathetic leader?

2020 has forced many of us to consider what it means to be empathetic, not only in our personal lives but in the workplace. Empathy comes naturally for some people, but for others, it may be more challenging to step in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it’s like to be them.

For leadership, having empathy and compassion for your team is incredibly valuable.

The world has changed dramatically because of the pandemic, reshaping our structures and ways of thinking, among many other notable differences. COVID-19 has affected individuals and families across the world in varying ways.

In the Salesforce Trailhead unit, “Bring Empathy to Your Leadership Practices,” Salesforce gives us the opportunity to learn more about the importance of recognizing each of our team member’s unique circumstances in difficult times, helps us design everyday practices to support our team in times of crisis, and helps us develop ways to help our team members focus on their most important responsibilities through it all.

How has your reality changed in 2020 due to COVID-19? What do you wish others knew about your experience? 

When you look from the inside out, you can begin to reverse the process with others and discover how they might want you to do the same for them. When we take the time to be introspective, learn more about others, and truly connect with them, we develop better relationships that allow us to soar.

For leadership, 2021 presents a unique opportunity to lead with empathy into another “new normal.” Hopefully, a “better normal” in 2021!

Salesforce Trailhead offers this advice for leading with empathy in 2021…


1. “Remember, Each Person’s Situation is Unique”

No matter how big or small your organization is, every one of your team members is going through something different.

Many of your team members may have taken on new responsibilities of being a full-time caretaker on top of their workload throughout the day. They may have become teachers on top of it all.

Other team members in high-risk groups may be extra cautious due to their medical conditions, while some may feel very anxious, lonely, or unable to focus because of today’s circumstances.

Even with the hope of a vaccine being distributed in 2021, many individuals and families will still be impacted, and leadership should keep this in mind.

Salesforce Trailhead helps to guide your leadership practices by offering ways to handle certain situations and make sure each of your team members is supported.

Bring Empathy to Your Leadership Practices

Image Credit: Salesforce Trailhead, 2020.


2. “Make Your 1:1s Meaningful”

Salesforce Trailhead encourages leadership to adopt the following practices, which they expand upon in the unit:

  • “Honor your 1:1s
  • Turn your camera on (sometimes)
  • Be present
  • Connect on a personal level
  • Ask specific questions
  • Share resources”

3. “Help Your Team Focus on What Matters Now”

Being present and living in the moment makes managing difficulty easier.

During difficult times, being able to adapt and be flexible as a leader is crucial. This helps to set the right example for your team. For example, many businesses have moved to work completely remotely in 2020 and are continuing to do so well into 2021.

By helping your team apply focus to what matters the most now, you help them prioritize, organize, and adapt.


What Does it Mean to be an empathetic leader?4. “Prioritize Your Team’s Tasks Effectively”

Working from home may be a distraction at times to certain employees. High-priority tasks may become unclear as a result. To help your team ensure that the most pressing tasks are completed first, establish a delegation system.

You may invest in a better project management tool if your current structure is failing to meet your remote needs in 2021.


5. “Reallocate with Empathy”

Salesforce explains that “change can be stressful” or even “frightening, particularly for people taking on a different role.” If you have to temporarily or permanently reassign team members to work on different things, do so with empathy.

Listen to your team’s concerns, address their questions, and be a resource to them throughout this transitional period.

Unexpected changes can be worrying, but as a leader, you can help your team handle changes with confidence and ease instead of creating a more worrying situation.


6. “Support Your Team’s Professional Development”

Salesforce explains that an individual’s career development sweet spot is right in the middle of strengths, business needs, and passion/career interest. All of these things still need attention and nurturing despite COVID-19.

How are you, as a leader, ensuring that your team members’ needs are met in this way? Convey that you are still interested in your team’s professional development by investing in and supporting their journeys.

Salesforce advises, “As your business changes, help your team members understand the landscape and reskill to meet new opportunities.”

Make change exciting for them, not scary!


Salesforce elaborates on each of these key points within the unit, which we encourage you to explore and test yourself on, on your own accord. Whether you’re already a leader or are an aspiring leader.

Start the Unit

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