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Upward Empathy

In work it can be easy to get stuck in our own space and place. We are aware of those we frequently work alongside, actively considering their thoughts and needs. When working in collaborative spaces, this is critical for the functioning of a high performing team.

These past couple of years have certainly placed many of us in survival mode at one time or another, where we can be forgiven for focusing our energies on our immediate sphere.

In my mahi alongside organisational leaders, I see leaders working tirelessly to ensure their team members have what they need to be and bring their best. It can also be hard work.

A few things I hear from leaders, particularly when their cups are a bit empty, are comments such as 

“It would be great to get a thank you”


“I wish someone would ask me how I am”

To recognise this need in another requires empathy; our ability to make an emotional connection, show curiosity and listen deeply, sometimes also listening to what is not being said. 

To recognise this in those who may be leading us requires what Liz Wiseman in her latest book “Impact Players” calls “Upward Empathy”.

Upward Empathy is our ability to transfer our perspective-taking awareness and empathy to our leaders. 

Leaders for whom the buck stops, who navigate multiple and sometimes conflicting pieces of information, who juggle multiple complexities at any one moment, and who often have to deal with private information that leaves them awake at night with concern. Leaders who are also human.

Liz Wiseman says that “Impact Players” show upward empathy. That despite any frustrations in their role or how things are done, they are able to perspective-take from their leaders perspective, and show empathy towards them.

They ask themselves questions such as:

  • What might this issue look like from their perspective?
  • What might I be missing from my perspective?
  • What makes their job hard?
  • What pressures might they be under?
  • What keeps them awake at night?

Perspective-taking invites us to step outside of our own worldview and experiences to consider another’s. When combined with the skills and actions of empathy, it can build relationships, collaboration, and community.

A core skill of impact players is their ability to perspective-take and show upward empathy, then act on their awareness and understanding. 

What steps might you take to develop these capabilities?

Go well.

MA 🙂

Middle Leader Coaching and Mentoring

Are you a leader of an organisation or school who is intent on growing your middle leaders, but not quite sure how?

Are you spending time mentoring and coaching them on-the-hop and feel you could be supporting them better?

Maybe with the best of intent, you place them on a one-day course, but these are like a drop in the ocean; they provide some tools, but once back in the face of work, their use can fall-over. This leaves them feeling frustrated and confused, and can sometimes make an even bigger problem for you to deal with, and will eat into your already precious time.

More details here


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