Leading Like Jesus: Empathy

After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:1-5 NKJV)

As a leader, I’m well aware of the positive impact good leadership can have on a person or organization and how poor leadership can have long term negative consequences. Because of this, I read books on leadership, attend leadership conferences, read leadership blogs, and follow proven leaders in social media. I try to surround myself with good leaders in order to learn from their examples. Hands down, the greatest leader is Jesus Christ. His ability to lead and equip 12 men, to change history and the world, stands as a great example of what it truly means to lead. Including today’s post, I want to share 7 principles I’ve observed from one example of the Lord’s leadership.

Empathy that leads to Compassion
Empathy is what happens when we see the needs of others and imagine how we may feel or react if we were in their place. For example, I’ve never lost a dear pet, but I might empathize with someone who has lost a pet. Empathy is a little different from sympathy. Sympathy is the feeling we get when we witness the pains of others in situations we’ve actually experienced. If you scrape your knee, I can sympathize because I’ve done it too. Compassion is what happens when our empathy or sympathy move us to action. For example, if you’ve ever been homeless or even if you haven’t ever been homeless, your care and concern for the homeless may move you to give resources to help the homeless in your city. That’s compassion.

In the scripture today, Jesus had empathy that led to an act of compassion. He saw the needs of the multitude and was moved to lead his disciples to find a solution. At the same time, he also showed concern for the development of his disciples by using this event to teach them valuable lessons. His empathy led to compassion because he cared for the people.

Great leaders care about the people they lead, and the people their organizations serve. This is true whether a person is leading a team, a department, church or business. If you’re a team leader who cares about the well being and success of your team members as well as the success of the team, you can create a winning environment where success is sustainable and renewable. If you’re a business leader who cares about employee morale and satisfaction you will have higher retention rates and greater productivity than your competitors. Companies that care for their customers and show it with good customer service typically, perform better than those with mediocre standards of service.

Without empathy that leads to compassion, leaders are reduced to managers and purposeful work can be diminished to mere programming. It is imperative that you develop empathy as a leader on the front end. What I mean is, don’t allow your care for those you lead or the people you serve to be an after thought. Care about their future success before you even hire. This is especially true for leaders of non-profit organizations with volunteer staff. Volunteers must be led with empathy because they are not obligated to give you their time and energy. Every volunteer wants to know that they are appreciated for the sacrifices they make. They want to know that you care about the talents and resources they give freely for your church or organization.

Most importantly, great leaders apply empathy and compassion to their own lives to help them lead well. These leaders care about their own development and well being. They realize the best gift they can give their followers is a healthy, happy, growing self. They care about their integrity and honesty and lead themselves to cultivate those qualities.
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