Top qualities of successful and empathetic leaders

In challenging times like these, brought on by the global pandemic, teams look towards the leaders of their organisations to set the foundation for how to deal with current circumstances

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Michael Page

The ways in which leaders react, and treat their teams, will make a lasting impression on organisational culture, employee engagement and retention and the ability to attract and hire new talent. 

So what are the skills and qualities that the most successful leaders demonstrate, especially in uncertain or crisis situations? And what are the traits that the best leaders embody in order to lead their teams and organisations successfully through?


With openness, and a willingness to document everything they do, the best leaders operate with open doors during a crisis. Transparency is so important because it builds trust – something that becomes invaluable during challenging times when there are many rapid changes. Transparent leaders also build the confidence of the team, and eliminate misunderstandings and the spread of false information. 


Especially during a situation such as the quick spread of COVID-19, circumstances change quickly. An effective leader should have the skills to listen to all the relevant stakeholders and options , and then make quick, decisive decisions that will bring the most benefit to everyone involved. 

Excellent communication skills

The importance of communication in a crisis cannot be overstated. An effective leader should be able to speak to employees, at all levels in the organisation, in an open and relatable way. Later, as the acute crisis passes, top leaders know how to communicate with their teams in a way that inspires confidence and builds motivation to keep on through whatever challenges might come next.  


The ability to look beyond the crisis of the moment and see what should come next is extremely important – in terms of both making quick decisions and seeing the way forward to successfully navigate through the storm. Having a strong vision for the organisation, and being able to communicate this effectively, can help employee engagement to remain high, and drive the organisation forward. 


Empathy is a hard skill to quantify, but leaders who have it are generally able to lead through challenging times with lots of success. Empathy allows leaders to understand the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the organisation. It also means the leader is able to look beyond to inspire, encourage and strategise in ways that will motivate employees at all levels. 

Becoming an empathetic leader

While many of these traits and skills are important in a time of crisis, empathy stands out as one of the most important. Some of the best leaders in the world are highly empathetic, and it shows in their decisions, communication and ways of relating to those they are leading. 

Empathy is not a quality that comes naturally to everyone but, the good news is, empathy can be developed. Here are five actions anyone can take to become an empathetic leader. 

Focus on two-way communication

Openly and often, empathetic leader share as much information as possible, even to the point where it seems unnecessary or redundant. This communication should be direct, straightforward and crafted with the idea that everyone is human, and not just a number in the office. Listening is as important as talking – empathetic leaders hear what people are saying and place a strong emphasis on being available for two-way communication. 

Maintain a connection

After the initial essential communications, empathetic leaders make the effort to maintain a connection with people at all levels of the organisation. Check in on employees to ensure that they are aware of resources available to them, and see how their situation evolves throughout. Mental health is always an important factor in overall productivity and employee engagement – and it has even more impact during a crisis. Reach out to employees often and sincerely. 

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes

A key characteristic of someone empathetic is the ability to see situations from the various viewpoints of different employees throughout the organisation. Make the effort to go through exercises in which you regularly think about decisions from a strategic leadership standpoint – and also from the point of view of the employees the decisions will affect.  

Seek out training

The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned. Look out for training that can help with effective communication, managing people with different personalities, or which focuses on developing other leadership skills. 

While many processes in the future workplace are moving towards automation, there are others that are becoming increasingly more human-centric. Leadership is one of those things – employees, and other leaders, expect strong leaders with high self-awareness who make decisions with empathy and kindness. Empathetic leaders are the ones who will be in high demand in the future as we make our way into the ‘new normal’

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