Why do some leaders push back against empathic leadership?

1.3k views2 Upvotes4 Comments

Senior Executive Advisor in Software, 10,001+ employees
There are definitely several pushbacks, and it has to do with how we've always viewed leadership. It comes more from a militaristic viewpoint where showing empathy or showing emotion of any kind within the professional workspace is considered a sign of weakness. We all grew up with that—emotions in the workplace are bad, and you're supposed to have that artificial façade or a mask as soon as you go into your workplace. This is enforced more in toxic cultures and in power-oriented, pathological cultures where you can't show any sign of weakness. You always have to have that stiff upper lip, and you have to be a very different person than what you are in the home. And that's stressful. You have to be two different identities: your personal life versus your professional life. Many people push back and say that empathy is a sign of weakness, so we cannot show that in our workplace. In this rat race of enterprise, they don't want to show that weakness.

The next pushback is that all of this is fine, it sounds all gooey and mushy, and it's all about feelings and connecting with oneself, but it does not help me with my organizational goals or my targets or with making me much more productive. So in their mind, organizational goals do not permit some people to be empathic. But I've found it's quite the contrary. One of my primary beliefs is that happy people are productive people. If people are happy, they have more trust, and they have more psychological safety. Because they have more psychological safety, they're able to innovate more, they're able to take more risks, they're able to experiment, they're okay to fail, and because of that, you have much more productivity. So while I understand the pushback that says the metrics do not allow for empathy, it's like an investment. You're investing in your organizations to be much more productive. Don't confuse your short-term gains with your long-term goals.

Then the third one is a cognitive bias. Many people think that failure and the reason other people are suffering when they're under stress is because they don't know how to handle it. They're not cut out for the situation that they're in, or whatever. So they feel that if they would have adequately prepared, if they would have worked harder, then they wouldn't have all this stress. And so they think, “what do you mean this deadline is not realistic? Of course, you can do it. If in my hypothetical mind, I can do it in six hours, so you should be able to do it in four.” Well, cognitive bias kicks in and prevents people from embracing that their own thoughts and biases are wrong.

Dehumanization is another one. This is especially in enterprises. People are not treated as people; they automatically become employee IDs and team members or assigned labels like dev or test or design. So the humanization portion goes away, and people think empathy is not an important thing. It's probably essential at a team level, but it has to be abstract in a way at a leadership level. So that's another pushback.

Frankly, empathy takes a lot of work. It's hard for someone to put themselves in other people's shoes, and many leaders are of a type-A personality. They’re ambitious, aggressive, want to move forward, want to act, and want to do something, and it's mostly about what they want to do as a type-A leader. The people who push back are usually these kinds of type A leaders, and they don't like to A) drop their ego and suppress it and think about someone else, or B) try to extend themselves and spend all that energy trying to connect with someone genuinely, because that takes a lot of work. So some people who want to be empathic get burnt out as a result of it.
CIO in Education, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
Agree with Gautham. A lot of this is “legacy” and “how we used to do things”. Doesn’t make it right, just means that the particular leader hasn’t adapted to current times.
CIO in Education, 201 - 500 employees
Ego. Lack of self-awareness. Not understanding (or refusing to grasp) that other people matter. Some equate empathy as a feminine trait and feel threatened in some way - in a largely white male industry, this we just need to wait out while continuing to push.
3 1 Reply
Senior Executive Advisor in Software, 10,001+ employees

This deeply resonates with me . Empathy IMO is a human trait and the sooner we can embrace that and realize that empathic people are extremely strong, the quicker we can evolve.


Content you might like

Founder, Self-employed
Work travel is a privilege. Embracing your experience to meet new people, and see the beauty of nature and culture wherever you go.
Read More Comments
70.5k views71 Upvotes41 Comments

Very likely6%


Moderately likely20%

Moderately unlikely5%


Very unlikely1%




Director of IT in Manufacturing, 5,001 - 10,000 employees
key performance indicators
Read More Comments
5.6k views2 Upvotes7 Comments

Strongly agree5%




Strongly disagree1%

Other (please comment)0%


2.1k views1 Upvote2 Comments

Director of IT, Self-employed
One thing I do is include them in the meetings about the changes that will take place and get their opinion.  I also lay out the pros and cons of the changes and how it will effect us as a team moving forward.

2.4k views1 Upvote1 Comment