The 5 Questions Every Empathic Leader Asks

Leading with empathy is the best way to drive productivity, results, and morale up within your team.


Quy Ma

3 years ago | 4 min read

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Empathy is the ability to understand and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empaths find it easy to relate to others, see other people’s perspectives, and understand what others are going through. It is one of the most, if not the most, critical traits that any leader in any organization should have.

According to a 2011 study of 5,600 people across 77 organizations, the ability of a leader to be empathetic and compassionate had the greatest impact on organizational profitability and productivity.

Unfortunately, empathy doesn’t come naturally to many people! There have been some musings about right-brained people being more empathetic and left-brained people being more logical, but I don’t know if that’s true. For this writing, I’m going to assume that’s not true.

In my opinion, anyone can practice empathy. It just takes more work for some than others. The benefits of being an empathetic leader are astronomical and shouldn’t be ignored. These include more loyalty, higher engagement, more transparency, and happier employees. All of these benefits fuel employment satisfaction, reducing the potential for turnover and stagnation.

To practice empathy, here are the top questions you can ask your team members consistently:

“Do you have any feedback for me?”

As an empathetic leader, it’s critical to leave an open channel for your employees to ask you questions or talk to you.

To know what your employees’ perception of you as a team leader, feedback needs to be a two-way street. You should never be surprised about what your employee thinks of you.

You can ask this question periodically at a performance review or after a team project.

Your employees will feel open and authentic with you if they see that you’re listening. You’ll be able to discover team insights and find out about opportunities to tackle them.

“How can I best help you?”

This question tells your team you’re here for them, not just the other way around.

Team members respect a leader that is willing to help them out. They may be shy about accepting your help since you’re the manager, but the sentiment will be appreciated.

By offering your help, you’re saying that you have their backs. And of course, actually helping them with their asks will boost loyalty even more. The willingness to roll up your sleeves and get into the trenches with them is one of the best empathetic questions to ask.

Sometimes, you might find out an employee might be behind on key projects and is hesitant to ask for help. Or you encounter a situation where they reply that they’re understaffed.

“What do you think?”

Empathic questions like this will show your team that you value them and their opinions.

If you hired the most competent people on your team, you should trust them. By asking this question, you’re not ordering them around or delegating. You’re telling them that their voice has as much weight as yours.

Some of the best ideas come from employees! They are working on the frontlines and know the ins-and-outs of the task at hand, through and through. An empathetic leader understands that the employees are experts in their respective areas.

Empowered employees are more motivated to complete the team’s goals and stay more engaged.

“What is keeping you from moving forward?”

This tells your employees that you will push them forward or remove their obstacles.

A question like this really means that you’re willing to invest in the employee. You’re interested in their progress and development by asking this question.

An employee who hits roadblocks, obstructions, or problems with a project with no solution in sight will be demoralized. An empathetic leader can help reduce the team’s stress by prioritizing the right things.

The answers you may get in reply are, “I need more training” or “I don’t have the staffing numbers to handle that project.” This kind of feedback allows you to directly address the issue.

“Are you okay?”

This is the most important question to ask as an empathetic leader. The well-being of your team members is directly tied to the success of your team. This question tells your team that you care about them.

A member on your team may be going through a rough day or might be overwhelmed. This allows you the opportunity to help them through the situation. Sometimes, what impacted your employee might have happened outside of Maybe they had a flat tire on the way to work this morning, resulting in why they were late but too embarrassed to tell you. Or maybe they

Keeping a pulse on your individual team members keeps you attuned to their emotional state. An unhappy or stressed team can result in a decline in productivity and performance as well as their overall happiness.

By asking empathetic questions of your employees, you’re letting them know that you think about them as human beings, not just an employee or individual team member.

According to the 2017 Businesssolver Workplace Empathy Monitor, “76% of employees believe an empathetic organization inspires more motivated employees.” Yet only “50% of CEOs agreed that empathy drives production and motivation,” revealing a missing gap in the employee experience.

It’s up to the managers and the leaders of all organizations to take up empathy to drive results. It starts by asking your employees the simplest of questions.

What do you think?

About the Author: Quy Ma is a Director of Market Research and has 10 years of experience in the cellular phone, outdoor, and food industries. He enjoys writing about leadership, disruption, tech, social justice, and self-development.

Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn!


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