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Lo♥︎ing legal life: the benefits of empathic leadership

Written by: The Lawyer
Published on: 20 Apr 2017

The ‘hard nut’ leader may achieve results, but at what price? This week, systemic coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister James Pereira QC discuss empathic leadership and how individuals and organisations can benefit.


Much of Western culture defines itself by a belief that it is an advanced civilised culture, despite the fact that much of our current political and business landscape is characterised by a lack of civility, all be it through the guise of what is acceptable. Hurtful language and behaviour has become the norm and this example is given to us by far too many who hold positions of leadership, power and status.


James Pereira QC

It is therefore of little surprise that our society, organisations and institutions, have become toxic places for a great many people, with damaging results, and to the detriment of our collective wellbeing.

Mental health has reached the top of our cultural and social agenda. The truth is that most mental health issues trace back to the absence of empathy and compassion. We shame each other and we shame ourselves.

Shame is of course a natural part of life, for without it we would have no conscience, too much and we are disabled.

There is growing research evidence to suggest that people want their leaders to be empathetic and compassionate. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the workplace. As firms look to strengthen the wellbeing of the organisation, it becomes clear that the wellbeing of the organisation and the wellbeing of its individual members are inextricably linked.

For firms to continue to succeed it is imperative that they employ leadership styles that ensure the wellbeing of the greater good of all. In a firm it is the people who make the firm profitable, successful even. If the people are not well then the firm cannot hope to be well either.


Zita Tulyahikayo

The hard nut, invincible lone star leader may well have achieved results, the question is, at what price?

The effects in firms are just like in any other system that has the complexity of being made up of people. The damage caused is indirect, it may well reveal itself in another part of the organisation and be attributed to another cause. A healthy firm needs to be wholly healthy.

So what can we do to ensure that an organisation and its members stand a chance?

Empathic leadership is a vital aspect of a more holistic approach to wellbeing and has much to recommend it. The core part of who we are as human beings is related to empathy and compassion. Without these core values and principles we would be psychopaths or sociopaths. Yet it seems that so often empathy and compassion get left at the front door on the way into the workplace. It is vital to create working environments where these skills are prized and valued if firms want to reach their full potential.

What does Empathic Leadership look like?

Empathic leaders…

  • Have greater self – awareness
  • Are open minded and open hearted
  • Regulate their emotions in crisis and or stressful situations
  • Intentionally respond to challenging situations rather than react impulsively
  • Lead by example rather than direction
  • Use little or no judgement or criticism in motivating their team
  • Have emotional intelligence and are conscious of the impact their words and actions have on others
  • Spend more time observing others rather than initiating
  • Listen not just actively also with compassion and understanding
  • Have the capacity to show vulnerability and acknowledge when they are wrong or have made a mistake

In the realm of Empathic Leadership there is little or no room for workplace bullying, sexism, prejudice, verbal or physical violence. Each member of a healthy organisation know that there is a safe space for her or him to have their essential human needs met in a civilised environment.

The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles.

You can reach them at and on Twitter @LifeTherapyZita and at and on Twitter @JamesPereiraQC.