TSB 047: Leading with Empathy, Not Authority

growth leadership nonprofit staff retention the saturday boardroom workplace culture Oct 21, 2023
TSB 047: Leading with Empathy, Not Authority

Read Time: 2 minutes

This week's tip:  When conflicts arise, approach them with empathy and seek collaborative solutions that benefit both the team and the organization.


Leading with empathy goes beyond simply understanding others; it involves turning conflicts into opportunities for growth and unity within your team. This approach contrasts with our instinctive urge to exert control, which can hinder the collaboration necessary for effectively resolving conflicts.

In contrast, control-based strategies can lead to a culture of compliance rather than one of commitment, causing a disconnect between leadership and staff. Leading with empathy opens the door to creative, collaborative solutions, allowing nonprofits like yours to harness the full potential of your teams in resolving conflicts.

"We even sometimes reimagine 'CEO' as 'Chief Empathy Officer."
- Joel Schwartzberg, Harvard Business Review


This approach transforms conflicts into stepping stones toward a stronger, more united team. However, the path to empathetic leadership can feel unfamiliar, especially in a world where the traditional model of authority often prevails. In your pursuit of resolving conflicts and achieving your mission,  you may have resorted to exerting control. Unfortunately, this approach can stifle innovation, hamper teamwork, and alienate team members, leaving a trail of missed opportunities for growth.

So, what can you do differently?

  1. The first action step is to prioritize active listening. When conflicts arise, you can approach them with empathy and seek collaborative solutions that benefit both your team and your organization. It's about opening a channel for open and honest communication, allowing team members to express their concerns and ideas freely. In doing so, you pave the way for transformative solutions and a culture of trust and openness.
  2. Empower your team by showing vulnerability and sharing your own experiences. This fosters a culture of trust and openness, allowing your team to feel safe to share their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment. By acknowledging your own strengths and areas for growth, you set an example for your team to do the same, creating a more inclusive and empathetic environment.
  3. Acknowledge the unique strengths and talents within your team. Celebrate diversity and promote inclusive leadership by recognizing that each member brings something valuable to the table. By doing this, you not only empower your team but also promote a culture that values different perspectives and backgrounds.
  4. When conflicts arise, don't just seek to resolve them; look for opportunities within them. Regularly check in with your team members to ask how they're doing and actively support their personal and professional growth. This action step isn't about simply managing conflicts but about proactively preventing them by creating an environment where your team feels heard, valued, and motivated to work together harmoniously.

By implementing these action steps, you lead with empathy, not authority, and transform your nonprofit organization into a place where conflicts are not disruptions but stepping stones to success. Let's embrace empathy as your superpower and watch your team's motivation, collaboration, and productivity soar.

That's all for today. I'll see you again next Saturday!

Whenever you're ready, there are three ways we can help you:

  1. Register for one of our upcoming workshops here
  2. Book me to speak at your upcoming event here.
  3. Explore our consulting services here.

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