Self empathy as a foundation for compassionate leadership

Emotional Intelligence, Mental Fitness

Caring for others. Caring for yourself. The importance of self empathy.

Empathy is a vital characteristic of leadership. Potentially even the most important element. Whether innate or learned, good leaders are able to draw on their empathetic qualities to help connect with the people in their organisation and support growth, performance, innovation and direction. 

But having high levels of empathic ability can sometimes come with a downside. 

Daniel Goleman is well known for getting us all to think more about Emotional Intelligence. He thinks there are 3 types of empathy. Cognitive empathy where we are good at understanding how other people think, emotional empathy where we understand what they may be feeling and compassionate empathy where we are moved to help. 

He sees downsides with some of these forms of empathy however. In particular people attuned to emotional or affective empathy can become drained by the experience. 

“In a state of emotional empathy, people sometimes lack the ability to manage their own distressing emotions, which can lead to paralysis and psychological exhaustion.”

Which is why we think that a key element of learning to be more empathetic with others is learning to be empathetic to yourself. Self empathy and self understanding can be the first step of moving from emotion into the action of self compassion and self care. 

Looking after oneself as a vital foundation in being able to sustain the empathy required to support and help others. 

This can sometimes be one of the most difficult challenges of leadership. 

Being in the midst of managing the challenges and changes of an organisation can feel like a constant process of prioritisation. The to do list is never complete. And the idea that “looking after yourself” should be higher up the to do list than the multitude of other things that are shouting to be at the top can feel like selfishness or an indulgence. 

It’s not. Empathy and understanding for oneself is the foundation for being an empathetic leader, capable of going beyond emotion and into the supportive action of compassionate empathy. 

The protected, reflective and productive space of transformational coaching is ideal for being able to not only gain self understanding about what kind of self care is best suited for maintaining compassionate leadership, but also as a place to be able to undertake that prioritising of tasks where self care isn’t instinctively relegated to being lower down the list. 

We hope your summer is full of lots of opportunities to recharge and regain resilience. But we hope that this continues long beyond the summer months as well.

Want to take this further?

Do you want to gain insight into personal transformation? Do you want to learn how your own Mental Fitness can be the framework for understanding how you can develop greater self-awareness and grow in your own capability and resilience?

Or, if you play a role in your organisation’s development and that of those who work with you and their Mental Fitness, we’d love to talk.


by | 6 Aug 2022

Explore Cognomie Insights by topic

Interested in a particular topic, then click to discover the latest Cognomie insights.