Why Empathy in Leadership is the Key to DEI

By Glenn Llopis

Leadership Development

Learn why empathy in leadership is the key to creating a diverse and inclusive organizational culture, including how it can help you build trust and rapport with others.

Why Empathy in Leadership is the Key to DEI

In order to create an inclusive and diverse workplace, leaders must first understand the value of empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. When leaders are able to put themselves in the shoes of their employees, they are better able to identify and solve problems. And when employees feel that their leader understands them, they are more likely to feel appreciated and respected.

Empathy is essential for creating a discrimination-free environment, and it should be one of the key values that all leaders strive for.

What is Empathy in Leadership?

When leading with empathy, a leader needs to understand and share the emotional state of their team. This doesn't mean a leader becomes emotional along with their team, but they do need to understand what their team is feeling in order to provide adequate support.

A leader who can empathize with their team will be able to build trust and rapport, leading to a more cohesive and productive team. In addition, leading with empathy can help a leader better understand the needs of their team and provide them with the necessary resources to succeed. When done effectively, leading with empathy can be a powerful tool for any leader.

There are two traits of empathy in leadership that may seem to contradict each other, but actually work together. Empathetic leaders are both self-aware and focused on unleashing others.

1. Empathetic Leadership is Self-Aware

Do you seek self-awareness in leadership? Empathetic leaders make the effort to know themselves well enough to recognize when they’re pushing their own standards and ideas onto others rather than letting others do things their own way. You can’t build an inclusive environment if you’re forcing others to assimilate to you.

2. Empathetic Leadership Unleashes Others

Do you seek to know others as individuals? Empathetic leaders proactively look for ways to give others room to be and share themselves. They look for ways they might be unintentionally holding people back. They look for ways to remove those barriers to people can explore their own individual capacity.

Why Empathy in Leadership is the Key to DEI

Empathetic leaders understand these truths about each of us as individuals:

  1. We have value: we want to be included.
  2. We are worthy: we want to be seen in our full humanity.
  3. We are unique: we want to be ourselves.
  4. We have experience and insight: we want to do more.
  5. We have ideas: we want to explore our possibility.

Those are the truths at the core of diversity, equity and inclusion. To explore them further from a big picture perspective, read Leadership in the Age of Standardization. To explore them further from the perspective of leading individuals, read Unleashing Individuality and take our free assessment.


In order to create a truly diverse and inclusive environment (DEI), leaders need to be able to empathize with their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

The best way to develop empathy is by taking the time to understand your own leadership identity and where you may be inadvertently imposing your own identity onto others. Use the five truths above as a guideline for assessing where you might be holding others back. You will gain empathy for those you lead. And that level of empathetic leadership will help you build a more inclusive organizational culture.