Compassionate Leadership

Such powerful words. I’ve been using them for a lifetime. Turns out, I did not understand the essence of their meaning. And when it comes to building teams and being a good leader, the difference can be substantial.

There are four words that we often use interchangeably: pity, sympathy, empathy and compassion.

When people hurt, we feel for them. That’s a pity. In practical terms, pity is seen as a negative. When we pity ourselves, or have a “pity party,” we’re likely in a place of disempowerment.  When others express pity, it can evoke feelings of superiority, condescension or contempt.

When we acknowledge someone’s pain, we are expressing sympathy. We’re letting them know that we are aware of their situation, commiserating their misfortune. When we express sympathy, it helps us connect with people. It’s important as leaders and colleagues to express sympathy at times of loss or pain. People appreciate it.

To connect with someone during a painful time in their life, we express empathy, which is the capacity to imagine being in someone else’s situation. As president, Bill Clinton famously said, “I feel your pain.” It means, “I’ve been there. I know this place. I can feel it.” As leaders or teammates, we connect more deeply when we’re empathetic. It’s a powerful way to build trust and deepen relationships. And when we express that “we know how you feel” idea, it can backfire. No two individuals share the same experience, no matter how similar the situations might seem. My loss of a loved one is different from yours. And letting people know you’ve felt similar pain is always a good thing.

To connect with people’s pain and help them do and feel better, that’s compassion. It’s the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

As leaders and teammates—at home and at work—we need to avoid pity, but instead express sympathy, feel empathy and collaborate with compassion. Helping people achieve success—and overcoming obstacles—is true leadership. ♦

Stephen Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or sgarber@thirdlevel.com.

You May Also Like

The Nation’s Top Metro Areas for Black Entrepreneurship 

In a recent survey, see how the Miami metro fared compared to Boston, DC and Seattle.

101 Days of Summer – and Just as Many Ways to Play

Highlights include family-friendly activities, thrilling water sports, dining and nightlife hotspots, spa and wellness treatments and more.

South Florida Marketing Expert Pens Forthcoming Book Exploring the Benefits of Business Networking

The Power of Networking aims to teach readers how to network like a pro.

Letter from the Editor: Our Elite Cover Stars Are in Dialogue With Each Other

We asked Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Raymond Fort about their work with Newgard Development Group’s CEO Harvey Hernandez—and the very well-known principals of the Related Group: Jorge Perez and his sons, JP and Nick.

Other Posts

Gucci Opens Newly Relocated Boutique in Palm Beach

Gucci has been a staple in Palm Beach and the new location adds to the Italian brand’s legacy in the U.S.

Palm Beach to The Real Housewives of Miami: Not Today

The show was planning to shoot on Worth Avenue, but the city shut that pipe dream down.

What Made This Seabourn Cruise So Spectacular, the Aegean Locales or the Ovation? Yes

It hardly needs to be said that South Florida is the cruise capital of the world. PortMiami is the busiest passenger ship terminal in existence, the home port for 12 cruise lines and a port of call for 11 more. Part of the draw of sunbathing in South Pointe Park or sipping a sundowner at

Coke Florida Earns Recognition as a Top-Performing U.S. Company

Coke Florida has been recognized as a U.S. Best Managed Company for two consecutive years and was the first and only Coca-Cola bottler to receive this prestigious title in 2022.