How To Avoid The Pitfalls Of Empathetic Leadership

Balance is needed to keep empathetic leadership from veering inwardly apathetic.


The value of empathetic leadership reached a fever pitch over the past few years. Understanding the perspectives of others – colleagues, staff, guests, customers – and responding with humility and respect for those perspectives can be a differentiator in staff retention and success. If your team doesn’t feel cared for by you, why should they prioritize you and the business that recognizes you as a leader?

According to CNBC’s Morgan Smith, throughout 2023 “(m)anagers will make or break companies’ success.” While those leaders relentlessly drive important work, enagagement, outcomes, and a sense of belonging, in many instances they are not directing that same level of attention and grace towards themselves. As a result, the outward empathy turns inwardly apathetic and stress levels rise while burnout runs rampant.

What are your signs to pump the brakes on impactful-yet-exhausting actions and catch a much-needed breath? If you fancy yourself an empathetic leader, here are a few signs:

The sneak attack of ‘imposter syndrome’

When you are tired, the irrational slinks in. It presents in different ways.

Maybe you are sitting around a conference table with your colleagues, when suddenly you are certain that you don’t belong. Then the questioning – why would anyone select you for such important, wonderful or even wonderfully important work? Suddenly the comparative self-doubt rears its head as you feel unsure how to respond when people praise your leadership style, given all along you felt like you could and should have been doing better.

According to Tulshy and Burey, imposter syndrome is “ loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments.” It is no surprise that the descriptor first appeared in a late 1970’s research paper focusing on high achieving women. The struggle is real.

Are we smart enough? Do we belong? Are we in over our heads? We ask these questions of ourselves because we care and we feel. Imposter syndrome happens to the best of us and almost never to the worst of us. Therefore, let’s just embrace that it exists and recognize imposter syndrome for what it is – doubt we aim at ourselves – and what it isn’t – other people’s realistic impression of us.


Boundaries. Say it with me. Given the upped need for creative engagement methodologies to retain our best colleagues, establishing boundaries has been a pain-point for many professionals. For engaged, supportive leaders it’s difficult to say ‘no’ when deep down you realize what a positive impact you could make if you just said yes.

This martyr-istic, save the world mindset can make a positive difference in a workplace environment. But at what cost? Without boundaries, those that can drive big change with even bigger engagement quickly become their own worst victims.

Balance. Intentional. Realistic. Those should be the inner expectations for office doers and standouts. Nothing more than that is okay. Trust that.


The boundaries-adjacent task of recognizing how we treat ourselves, our bodies, our minds. If we don’t take the time to care for ourselves, our ability to care for others boasts a much shorter lifespan.

In addition, the behavior and actions we model need to be healthy for others to not only watch, but emulate. While the hustle culture was interesting to watch on a movie screen, the reality is quality over quantity is not only less exhausting, but more effective in the long run. And remember, as leaders, we are building and supporting tomorrow’s leaders. It’s only fair to make sure we build them effective and sustainable.

Believe in your belonging

While many might equate empathetic leadership with a certain gender, it’s important to note the above pitfalls are not only waiting in the wings for female technology leaders.

The weight of being in charge is only outweighed by the desire to care for those in our charge. Some might call these soft skills, others may balk at the legitimacy and effectiveness of this leadership style. In reality, we don’t simply belong at the table, every table is stronger with our presence.

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