Gary Vaynerchuk says it’s one of the biggest things to which he attributes his success. Simon Sinek believes it’s the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox. And Oprah Winfrey cites it as fundamental to leadership.
The secret of their success is something that might surprise you: Empathy.
This soft skill is often misunderstood and confused with its cousin, sympathy, which is feeling compassion for somebody. But empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective.
Here’s how you can take a cue from Gary, Simon, and Oprah and become a more empathetic leader:
First, Simon says to think like a Marine.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek states that while most people consider rank, power, and privilege the cornerstones of leadership, Marines believe that true leadership is the willingness to place others’ needs above your own.
To do this, you must shift your mindset to put people first. See them as human beings rather than a means to the end of a transaction or task.
With your customers, practicing empathy means establishing a relationship where you practice serving, not selling. With your colleagues, it starts with giving them the benefit of the doubt and checking in.
Sinek believes it can be expressed in the simple words, “Is everything okay?” By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’ll better understand their needs, which is the foundation for successful communication.
Next, ask questions like Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey is famous for her ability to build rapport with her guests and audience. She does this by asking thoughtful and probing questions that draw out implications and feelings, which in turn, fosters a deeper connection.
You can accomplish the same thing by asking better questions and cultivating your sense of curiosity with others. Curious people ask lots of questions, leading them to develop a stronger understanding of the people around them.
By practicing empathy, you can strengthen your relationships. And Winfrey says leaders who choose to employ empathy can have more significant influence and impact because they use their “ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”
Finally, listen like Gary.
Gary Vaynerchuk jokes that though most people think of him as a “mouth,” he promises he’s really “an ear disguised as a mouth.” As Vaynerchuk advises: “To be a great leader, you have to be a great listener.”
To develop your empathy, listen more and talk less. And when you’re with someone, resist the urge to multitask. Use your awareness to give others your full and undivided attention so you can genuinely listen to what matters most to them. Add to that an open-mindedness to considering differing points of view, and you’ll make others feel valued and heard. In turn, you’ll be viewed as a more compassionate, open, and caring leader.
When you practice empathy, you’ll better understand your customers, colleagues, and partners, and then be able to use those insights in ways to better serve and communicate with them.
And in this way, empathy can give you an edge as a leader—AND as a human being.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Amy Blaschka’s Forbes page.