Don’t Fake Empathy

Image credit: engin akyurt |

Friday, July 22, 2022

This week, I sent a tweet that some may have found a bit cynical, which suggested that the attempt by large corporations to convince their associates that a CEO who earns $20 million per year understands the well-being concerns of their average employee is, as a matter of fact, contributing to the well-being concerns of their average employee. See, no reasonable person believes that someone with an 8-digit compensation package has any ability at all to relate to the health and welfare issues of individuals making 100 times less than them. So, for anyone in the organization to suggest that they do is not helpful; in fact, it’s upsetting.

As if on cue, two days after I sent the tweet, up pops a post in my LinkedIn feed from a CEO sharing the great news that he had finally taken the advice he’d been giving to his team about self-care and had decided to embark on a 5-star retreat to one of Europe’s most exclusive destinations. It was a rather long post, complete with pictures of the posh facility and some regret on the leader’s part that he doesn’t do enough for himself. I tried to put myself in the place of one of his average workers. I tried to decide how the post would contribute to my own well-being and rather quickly decided that it likely would not, imagining that with the rising cost of everything my own vacation had likely been postponed as personal budget worries mount … creating real live health concerns at a time when people in the office are being asked to do the work of more than one associate.

And to know that the boss’s idea of empathizing with it all is to jet over to Switzerland for a spa week was likely the last straw. Because the goal of empathy is not to show people how much more important you are than their problems. It’s to show them how important their problems are to you.

And that’s the point for the week.

Trying to show people that their problems shouldn’t matter to them by proving they are trivial to you will almost always serve to remind them only of why you should no longer matter to them. No one wants to be reminded of power they don’t possess, or money they don’t have, or luxuries they don’t own. People want to be made to feel big, not torn down or made to feel small. They want to work for people who are empathetic with their plight – not tone-deaf narcissists who seek to minimize the importance of their lived experience.  

See, empathy is not a function of trying to convince people that things that they very well know do matter don’t. It’s a simple function of putting yourself in another’s place and understanding as best as you possibly can, how they feel … either because you’ve asked them or because you’ve been there before – purposely having walked a mile in their shoes.

At a minimum, it’s about honestly admitting that you have no earthly idea how they feel but promising that it matters enough to you to find out and then caring enough to do so. Because two things are true. One, all that most people care about is that you care. Second, you can’t fake empathy. Either you care or you don’t. If you care more for the person in the mirror than the person sitting in front of you, find another line of work. Leadership probably isn’t your bag. Because if putting yourself first matters more to you that anything else, you’re going to be spotted a mile away. And when you are, people will turn and run – joining the more than 4 million others per month that are heading for the exits, looking for people who truly and actually care.

So, don’t fake empathy.

And win.

To learn more about the author, please follow this LINK.

To purchase a copy of Phillip Kane’s new book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring, please click HERE.

Image credit: engin akyurt |


Empathize with Others

Empathize with others. Phillip Kane's Blog
Image: Archbishop Hoban High School

October 9, 2021

This week was the annual cross-town Catholic high-school football rivalry game between the school our children have attended, Archbishop Hoban and St. Vincent-St. Mary (of LeBron James fame). For Hoban, St.V week culminates with “Mum Day,” on game day, Friday, during which students do not utter a sound for the entire school day.

For our son, William, our youngest and a Senior, it is his last St. V weekend. For Seniors, St. V week is a big deal. It includes Lock-In on Thursday night, a giant slumber party that includes decorating the building with pro-Hoban and anti-St. V banners, then waking early to line the driveway in order to welcome underclassmen with often exaggerated and even menacing shushing motions, warning them to be quiet — that this is Mum Day!

For his mother and I, it was all a bit melancholy — our 12th and last St. V week. But as I considered things further, it occurred to me that for Will, although it was his final Mum Day, it was his first last Mum Day. For him, it was less about being sad, and more about experiencing St. V week as a Senior for the very first time. It was a reminder that in everything, perspective matters.

And that’s the point for the week.

What we’re feeling isn’t always what others are feeling. As leaders, it’s critical to remember that. It’s a key to building the emotional intelligence and empathy that are necessary for other human beings to willingly follow us.

See, it’s virtually impossible to make someone else feel what we feel. Trying to do so will leave a mark, and not a good one.  That’s because people arrive at any situation with their own unique tapestry of experiences, thoughts, emotions, and expectations — each entirely different from another. What people feel matters to them; they want to be understood, not manipulated. Those who first recognize this and who then take the time to understand these individual differences will thrive as leaders.

This occurs because those who create empathy create trust. And in the currency of human relationships, the value of trust is second only to love. Trust is offered in return for an absolute belief that I matter, my feelings matter, my ideas matter and my well-being matters to the person I’m trusting. This cannot and will not happen until that person puts themself in my place, until they develop a complete understanding of what it means to be me — until they empathize with me.

Leaders who adopt the perspective of others — who truly empathize with others — create a trust that results in followers who will do nearly anything for them because those same people know that, if the roles were reversed, their leader would do anything for them.

It’s a simple matter of changing your perspective, starting with having the emotional intelligence to do so.

So, empathize with others.

And win.

For more about the author, visit

Caring Empathy

Fearlessness is NOT a Leadership Trait

Fearlessness is not a leadership trait

March 19, 2021

This week, I came across a post from the magazine, The Scientist, which recapped a January study of mice published by the journal Science. The study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University, sought to determine whether the tiny rodents are able to recognize and respond to the fear of their neighbors. The work conclusively determined that mice do, indeed, empathize with the feelings of fear felt by their furry little mates, and not only that, but in doing so help ease the level of fear response in those initially affected. These findings hold significant promise for advancing ways that scientists think about how humans interact with one another as well.  What I found most striking were the implications the psychologists believed this research has for the management of fear-based responses, causing them to rethink historic highly prescribed methods in favor of the creation of looser environments punctuated by togetherness.  What the mice seemed to prove quite clearly was that in the face of fear, empathy, not control will elicit progress.

And that’s the point for the week.

The notion of fearlessness seems to be all up in vogue these days. With courage having been covered, some have felt the need to take things a leap further by advocating for outright fearlessness.  The best leaders, they say, demonstrate a lack of fear.  In the face of any foe or fight, the fearless leader singularly grabs control and charges forth undaunted, their huddled but adoring mass of followers in tow. I don’t recommend it.

Fearlessness is right up there with stubbornness on my list of unattractive behaviors. It is assuredly NOT a leadership trait.

Fear is a perfectly natural human emotion.  In any threatening situation, across a group of human beings, the degree of fear felt by the group can be plotted and will likely return a standard distribution. This is a clue to any leader that, despite their own fear response, they are not leading a bunch of steely-eyed rocks. Those they lead feel fear – in varying degrees. And, as such, to be moved, from one place to another, will require a leader to recognize, empathize with, and help overcome that fear sufficient to motivate the entire team to relocate.

Boasts by a leader of their own fearlessness do nothing to encourage anyone. Generally, these boasts will be met with perceptions on the part of others that the owner of the boast is either narcissistic, dishonest or foolish. Or in some cases, all three. None are at all flattering. People do not want to follow people who do not feel fear.  People want to follow people who recognize that others have right and reason to feel fear sometimes, and who take the time to help them deal with that fear and rationalize moving forward.

When, as leaders, we exchange control for empathy and understanding, we can move columns of people over what seemed only a short time before to be a mountain of fear. It’s not that we nor those we lead stopped being afraid. It’s that we stopped letting that which we are afraid of stop us from moving forward – because we came together, armed by trust and propelled by a love which results from having endured something difficult as a unit, something most of us never dreamed possible and something that once scared the heck out of most of us.

So, don’t pretend to be fearless.  Empathize with the fear of others.

And win.

To purchase a copy of Phillip’s book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, please follow this LINK.

To learn more about the author, please click HERE

Empathy General Leadership

Say No to Narcissism

True, caring leaders say no to narcissism. Phillip Kane's blog
Concept narcissistic man. The male head and crown are drawn on a chalk board.

This week I came across a just-published article in The Leadership Quarterly that details the results of a recently concluded study showing that those who are highly narcissistic advance to CEO roles more quickly than their more well grounded and empathetic counterparts. 

This despite piles of research proving that narcissists tend to be eventual train wrecks once they achieve positions of significant authority. The very article reporting the findings simultaneously raised cause for worry over the negative behavioral tendencies and subsequent disastrous organizational outcomes related to self-obsessed managers. Indeed, as recently as last April, a Stanford University paper provided a similar warning; narcissists are a malignant influence. 

And that’s the point for the week. 

Narcissists are entirely self serving. They are the center of their own universe. A narcissist seeks not to promote the greater good, but their own good. They care little for the input or well being of others. Worse, they almost never admit when they are wrong and will protect themselves and their own personal position at any cost. Narcissists are bullies whose true colors almost always show under stress. People follow narcissists for one very simple reason — because they have to.

They are easy to spot. If you’ve been watching the coverage of an embattled northeast governor these past few weeks, you’ve seen narcissism on full display. Find two people involved in youth athletics; the narcissist will put his coach of the year award on his LinkedIn profile, while his caring leader counterpart will post a picture of a child hoisting a trophy over their head. 

True, caring leaders make it about others. They put the needs of people besides themselves before their own. They use we language, not me language. They seek the input of those closest to the work when making important decisions – the same people narcissists tend to look down on. True, caring leaders display empathy, humility and respect for other human beings. They know winning is about something far bigger than themselves.

As a result, these leaders gather willing followers. I call them disciples. They build relationships that last a lifetime and weather any difficulty, because they are founded on trust and fueled by love. They bring out the best in others by encouraging them to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible. The teams they build work harder, fight longer and win more often. And they do so with far less drama and zero preening at the end. 

Best of all, having actually earned their spots, they tend to stay in them, while the flash in the pan narcissists sit at home, alone, telling stories of what once was to whoever will listen, surrounded by a collection of world’s best boss merchandise they bought entirely for themselves.

So fall in love with others, not with yourself. 

And win.

To purchase a copy of Phillip’s book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, please follow this LINK.

To learn more about the author, please click HERE