How Being More Empathetic Can Make You a Better Leader

11/04/2016 10:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Lynnda Pollio has found success in life by listening to her instincts and carving out her own path. After holding a variety of jobs, including being the world's first Chief Consciousness Officer for Fortune 500 companies to help brands help spark cultural and personal transformation, she currently works as an Empathic Consultant to help people and businesses get past whatever may be holding them back. "I support anyone who is going through profound change and is ready to dive deep to seek the truth and create a more meaningful life," Pollio explains.

In her experiences helping women navigate complicated decisions that involve their work life, home life, and love life, she has discovered some common roadblocks to empathy--and how overcoming those obstacles often helps women become stronger leaders. "Empathy is so important because we're all connected, and it reminds you how connected we are. It allows you to not have any distance between yourself and another person," says Pollio. Skirting the Rules caught up with Lynnda at one of our Art of Being Salons in Manhattan to find out how we can all practice more empathy to find success.

Lead by example. The first step to being more empathetic is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. "If you're not vulnerable, then you've got the armor up and you can't feel other people," says Pollio. Being more vulnerable is about acknowledging your weaknesses and your negative emotions, even if they're not pretty. Accepting vulnerability is also key to being able to have empathy for others. Give yourself permission to go deep and reveal what lurks in your soul. Don't be afraid to get angry or to cry. Let your real emotions come out so you can release them. Your confessions may inspire others to make similar revelations. Be there for them when they do.

Listen without judging (and sometimes, without speaking). Lynnda shared the story of a friend who was suffering after a bad accident. "When she spoke to me, I didn't offer advice or try to fix anything. I just created the space for her to vent and talk," says Pollio. "She thanked me at the end and said that she hadn't been able to have that kind of conversation with anyone, including her own family members." Offering someone an ear gives the person an opportunity to let whatever is bottled up inside him or her spill out. By doing this, you will develop a more intimate relationship with the other person, which builds trust and respect--qualities that every good leader should have.

Be present in the moment. You've got a lot on your plate. We get that. Sometimes it's hard to stop your mind from wandering to the next task on your to do list or from thinking about what you're going to feed your kids for dinner. It's happened to everyone. Try to stay in the present moment, says Pollio, and pay more attention to what's happening around you. You can't properly pay attention to the feelings of others if you're not focused. And if you're not fully in tune with the people around you, you might not be making the most effective decisions.

Admit when you just don't know. According to Pollio, one of the most underused phrases in the workplace is simply, I don't know. I'll get back to you. "People are often afraid to say that, because it makes them appear vulnerable and might open them up to judgment. But if you think that you know everything, then you probably know hardly anything." says Pollio. In the workplace, true leaders surround themselves with others who can fill in their knowledge gaps, so even if they don't know something, they have the ability to find out the answer quickly and easily.

Try on someone else's shoes and walk around in them for a while. No, we don't mean literally--unless you're Lynnda. At a conference at the United Nations, Lynnda participated in an exhibit where she got to put on a virtual reality headset in order to learn more about some of the greatest global problems, such as the Zika virus and the Syrian refugee crisis. She found it so helpful to put herself in another person's shoes and see what that person sees every day, experiencing each problem as if it were her own. "If someone else is suffering, try to feel that person's suffering so you can offer to help in some way," suggests Pollio. In the end, it's all about perspective. This simple action can change another person's life--and also your own.
***Additional reporting by Jessica Demarest