Feed Your Bottom Line with Empathy

Don’t Let Your Leaders Walk Away from Training Hungry for What They Need


“If we are to keep our businesses relevant and our consumers happy, we must embrace empathy and let it be the force that drives us forward.”

Jason M. Boyers – Forbes 2013


It certainly looked good when I ordered. It even tasted good. And after missing breakfast, a delayed train, and stressful commute, it was the most available, immediate – and comforting – lunch choice: Sausage pizza with 2 chocolate chip cookies and a root beer. Comfort achieved. Temporarily. Two hours later, as I sent my workshop participants on a break with my stomach rumbling, all I longed for was a nap – and a handful of antacids. Instead of choosing healthy nourishment I needed for energy, I chose nutritionally bankrupt food and now I was paying the price.

The buyers in today’s L&D markets may be guilty of this same malady when it comes to training: they often pick the convenient or cost-friendly choice rather than seeking what their employees really need.

In 2015, Isabel Williams noted that leadership development consisted of some very important trends and directions – diverse generational leadership, leadership globalization, vertical development, and collective leadership – requiring higher degrees of collaboration, flexibility, adaptability, understanding, and sensitivity. And yet the key ingredient needed to meet those demands still seems to be missing among leaders. As Ernest J. Wilson III, Dean of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California, writes  “…empathy is most lacking among middle managers and senior executives: the very people who need it most because their actions affect such large numbers of people.”

-Harvard Business Review 2015


So what kind of training should buyers seek, to feed the need for building empathy?


“Unfortunately, I have seen many situations in which people talk at each other, instead of making a concerted effort to listen and discover opportunities for collaboration.”

Forbes Leadership – May 2013

Build stronger, healthier empathy skills by teaching leaders how to really listen: uninterrupted and reflective listening focused on hearing values and strengths, or – most importantly – emotional context and resonance. Leaders who can listen with heart generate higher levels of trust and respect, create more effective interpersonal communication and safer environments, and even reduce tension.


Simply increase flexibility among your leadership by providing learning that includes collaborative problem solving, ensemble building, and thinking on your feet. One dish with all those ingredients: theatrical improvisation training. Improvisational warm-ups, exercises, and role-playing improve flexibility, adaptability, openness, ability to recognize and accept offers and wait – get ready for it – listening. That’s a recipe that can satisfy any deficiency.


Successful teams need solid relationships to collaborate, cooperate and problem-solve; however, building truly substantive relationships demands attentiveness, sensitivity, vulnerability and caring. Oh no…throw-your-arms-around-each-other and sing Kumbaya? Not at all. Life mapping, journal reflection or crafting and sharing personal credos will do it. The very best option? Storytelling. Teach your leaders to craft and share stories about meaningful life moments and watch the bonds blossom and grow.

However, before buyers take out the company checkbook, they want to be certain of returns on their investment. Here’s how empathy can impact your organization:


The term, which means “the adaptation of an organism triggered by a change in another,” may have originated in biology, but it applies to today’s demanding business landscape as well. Leaders with higher empathy skills have greater ability to recognize and relate to (changing) business environments, build on strengths around them, and adapt more fluidly, increasing bottom line and successfully growing a business.


Leaders who deepen relationships among those around them bring greater harmony, cooperation, understanding, and enjoyment to the office. More than that, those relationships then elevate mere compliance to dedicated commitment, boosting productivity and expanding the bottom line. Nancy Etcoff, Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts General Hospital Psychologist, writes

“…workplaces that provide positive environments that foster interpersonal trust and quality personal relationships create the most committed and productive employees.”


Imagine saving your organization $26,041. That’s the cumulative annual cost per worker due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers. Leaders who listen and speak with empathy – audience focus and awareness – communicate messages, feedback, guidance and direction more successfully. And that’s worth every penny.

Don’t miss out on offering your leaders what’s really lacking in their diet. Provide empathy training in your next learning engagement and you’ll be feeding more than just your leaders’ skill sets – in the long run you’ll be feeding your bottom line.