Empathy and Good Managers

in Management by Emily Snell

Empathy and Good Managers

The traditional view of management is to drive results at all costs. Be hard on employees and they will perform. That employees’ personal lives don’t matter, as they have nothing to do with work. Yet we know today that employees’ personal and professional lives do collide. Today’s workplace environment calls for an evolved way of management and of leadership. Today’s managers need to tap into other motivators to get results and inspire the best performance from employees.

Employees are first human beings. And we need managers to acknowledge and incorporate the social emotions essential to performance. One such emotion we need to see more of in our workplaces is empathy.

Brené Brown explains empathy as a driver of connection. It is a bonding agent that strengthens relationships. It is one human being connecting with another, acknowledging a person’s circumstance without diminishing or rationalizing it. Empathy is an acknowledgement without judgment.

Empathetic Manager

Empathy is confidence. Empathy is humanistic. Empathetic managers disregard the traditional view of management and want to relate with employees to inspire and motivate. Three key elements fuel the empathetic manager.


Empathetic managers recognize that the human drive to bond is a workplace motivator. It is a managers upmost responsibility to create a work environment that helps employees believe they are wanted, that they belong to the group. Researcher, author and psychologist Matthew Lieberman wrote, “We all have a need to belong. Signs that others like, admire and love us are central to our well-being.”

Lieberman identifies in his book Social the factors that help create connection: belonging, well-being, cooperation, positive social regard, and even fairness. Consider each of these and what emerges are inputs that encourage us to want to know more about others. Curiosity drives connection. Imagine these five factors present in your team. How much more productive would your team be? How much ownership of results would your team claim?

Connection is fueled by empathy. Consider this for a moment. Would you feel a sense of belonging if your peers and your manager were willing to learn from your perspective? Imagine how this leads to cooperation and how a sense of belonging and cooperation can improve your wellbeing.

Connection is vital. An empathetic manager can help be a cause for connection to be present in her team.


Holding the belief that as a manager an essential responsibility in your role is to help others is key to empathy and the results it can create. Helping your team members achieve their personal and professional goals is paramount. Being willing to roll up your sleeves to help the team, or an employee, is for a manager a vital leadership act. It helps deepen commitment to and belief in the employee’s own contribution and sense of belonging. Not much is more powerful than a servant leader who helps others bring their best selves to the table.


In both the animated video and Lieberman’s work, sense-making is linked to empathy. In the animated video of Brené Brown’s TED talk she identifies the qualities of empathy. One is recognizing emotion in others. Lieberman explains, “making sense of the thoughts and intentions of others can be the difference between increased happiness and social connection or escalating loneliness and frustration.”

Take both Brown and Lieberman’s insights and a pearl of wisdom emerges: sense-making is the catalyst to fueling connection and inspiring service-orientation. It’s an internal state and ability of the manager to make sense of what is or isn’t being said or what is or isn’t being done. To accurately tease out conclusion of another’s actions or words relies on a leadership presence that assumes the best intentions and inquires with curiosity not judgment.

Empathy thrives in an environment where managers use the three factors to help employees unlock their best performance and best selves. Empathy is a contributor to workplace optimism. Empathy and management are powerful together and necessary for today’s workplaces and teams.

About the Author

Emily Snell

Emily is a contributing marketing author at ChamberofCommerce.com where she regularly consults on content strategy and overall topic focus. Emily has spent the last 12 years helping hyper growth startups and well-known brands create content that positions products and services as the solution to a customer's problem.

Full Biography

Related Management Articles