Are You an Empathic CEO?

  • Do you experience other people’s feelings deeply?
  • Do you take responsibility for how other people feel, so much so that you take extra steps to try and mitigate their negative emotions?
  • Do you intentionally avoid difficult conversations because you know how the other person will feel?
  • Do you tire easily from having to make difficult choices and decisions?
  • Do you tell yourself you’re bad at managing people?
  • Do you avoid confrontations?
  • Do you avoid accountability conversations?
  • Do you resent team members for ‘forcing’ you to hold them accountable? (Shouldn’t they just know what to do and do it?)
  • Do you wish people would just do their job and not make it so difficult for you?
  • Do you worry if you’ve made the right decisions and wonder if you’ve offended or upset team members?
  • Are you a self-proclaimed ‘people-pleaser’?
  • Do you hyper-control as much as you can to mitigate mistakes, imperfection and therefore the conversations that have to come to address them?
  • Do you feel sensitive, weak or ill-prepared to be the type of leader you should be?

If you answered yes to even a few of these… welcome… You have empathic tendencies.

​Being empathic simply means you have a keen ability to know and understand the feelings (and possibly thoughts) of others.

​Sadly, our leadership history as humans shows us that empathy and leadership are not compatible. We’ve been taught that leadership is strong, tough, direct, aggressive, assertive and definitive. As a result, many empathic CEO’s struggle to find their competence and confidence in their role. They feel ill-suited to be successful as leaders because we have all been taught that leadership doesn’t have feelings. There are not many empathic role-models to choose from.

​Another issue is that being an empath or empathic has been labeled sort of ‘woo-woo’. That being an empath is an excuse and that the hard-world out there needs to be different so the poor empaths can make it through the day feeling everyone’s feelings. Whether intentional or not, this approach has led us to believe that empaths are tender and soft (and weak). Many might expect to call themselves empaths at some sort of retreat for spiritual guidance but never in a boardroom surrounded by high-performing professionals.

​Further, empathy has been and continues to be taught as a ‘soft’ skill in leadership courses world-wide. Soft-skills are code for ‘stuff that isn’t really necessary’….

All of this is a lie.

​Empathy and being empathetic are not ‘soft’ at all. In fact, they are damn hard. Very hard. Hard to learn and challenging to negotiate. But the person, who is an empath… is anything BUT soft or weak. Quite the opposite.

​I contend that being empathic is a superpower. Feeling other people’s feelings allows you to show up so much more present for everyone involved. It gives you insight into how to read the room, connect, build meaningful collaborations and have rich, important conversations.

​But superpowers can also have an underbelly or difficult edge. For empaths it’s when we don’t have self-awareness and structures and boundaries to help mitigate the deeply felt emotional toll of feeling what everyone else is feeling.

​If you resonate with the questions I asked you above, you must first accept that it’s okay to be this way. To see that you aren’t weak and too sensitive. In fact, empaths are some of the strongest people I know. Our ability to be in a room and feel what everyone is feeling, plus make sense of our own feelings is really, really tough at times. This ability requires tremendous strength.

​I’ve known for years that I fall on the ‘very’ empathic side of the empathy scale.

As a result, when I first started managing people I really struggled.

I wanted to avoid the difficult parts of managing and mostly just be a cheerleader. Unfortunately, that didn’t get the best results long term.

There were tough conversations that couldn’t be avoided.

I found myself physically and emotionally exhausted because I was in constant resistance to feeling my own and others’ feelings all day, every day.

I had to create systems of management to help me do the tougher parts (for me) of the role, so that I could get the work done of managing… and still be who I am.

​Being empathic doesn’t mean you are weak.

But you can become weakenedif you avoid developing processes to lead, manage and develop others as an empath.

This is why I created the Leadership Operating System, the Hiring Process, the Firing Process, the Accountability Process (and more)… because I need to have the process in place to mitigate the emotional challenges that present themselves for me in their absence.

Without processes for myself as a managing leader, I get caught up in the emotions of a moment (mine and theirs). Which may force me to change who I am. I either lead through moments too passively and don’t hold my voice and presence or I lead through a moment too forcefully and roll over everyone, trying desperately to not feel or acknowledge anyone else’s feelings in the room.

Either way, it isn’t me showing up as me and that takes it’s toll.

The processes I have in place, that I teach other CEO’s, allow us to be who we are… Which is kind, graceful, grateful, generous, understanding humans who deeply connect with people they know and allow into their circle. We collaborate, create learning moments, and invest in others’. BUT, we also hold our space, hold boundaries and hold expectations without either hiding and dimming our light. We no longer are emotionally triggered so that we act out in a way that isn’t who we want to be in the world.

If you are an empathic CEO, you are magical.

You are a Goddess on this earth.

You have the capacity to achieve amazing work, visions and ideas into the world through others.

It is your empathic tendencies that have actually helped you birth your ideas into the world. In fact, it is likely your empath-nature that is driving the very work you are are called to do.

You can lead as an empathic CEO.

You can feel good as empathic CEO.

You can be strong, capable, and confident as an empathic CEO.

And you can own all of it instead of denying the very part of you that makes you so capable of being an amazing leader.

​Together we will build up the processes you leverage to show up as you are, achieve the results you want and communicate in a manner that is authentic for you.

​If you resonate as an empathic CEO, let today be the day you no longer believe that you must be tougher, stronger, more assertive, etc… to be effective. That is a lie that has been lauded for far too long.

Let’s instead choose that you can be more of who you are.

You can lean into the superpower of being an empath and ADD tools, practices and processes to help you be the most amazing CEO version of yourself you can.


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Photography Danielle Cohen