The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Reflection: Leading with Empathy

Article Type 

Jake Maguire put together a presentation on the connection between empathy and leadership, including developing empathy as leaders. In the presentation, Jake clearly identified many examples of leaders in our society who organize their leadership around empathy, such as Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis, as well as the striking dichotomy of higher levels of female empathy and their positions in public office. Of the ways to develop empathy that Jake discussed, the most interesting, in my opinion, was how to use open-ended questions in conversations and acknowledging that empathy is not the final step. The steps that Jake outlined for developing and exhibiting empathy in leadership are straightforward to implement in our every day relationships and helped me think of empathy less as a personality trait but rather a practice. I believe that empathy is desirable in personal relationships and leadership contexts because it makes the person with whom you are interacting feel heard and accepted. I believe that Joe Biden, one of the figures who Jake identified as empathetic, is one of the best examples of this as, despite his apparent public position, he treats every person he interacts with as a fellow person first through empathy, which makes him significantly more relatable. Another figure who is proficient at displaying empathy through their interactions is Emma Watson. Though still most famous for her role in Harry Potter, she has dedicated an immense amount of time and energy working with and advocating for young women across the world. Her ability to transmit emotion and tell the stories of the people she works with is made possible by her empathy. The work of Emma Watson leads me to my final point, which is how empathy works well in leadership when it is executed in an inviting, open environment. Being empathetic does not excel a team very far unless everyone feels comfortable and willing to share and be honest. Developing empathy within yourself as a leader and engaging with people in an accepting environment is the best way to lead with empathy and garner the best results out of empathetic interactions.


-Written by Nancy Curtis, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow 

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences