The art of putting yourself into other people’s shoes

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

—Theodore Roosevelt

This is the second part of a three-part blog series about the three signature skills of inclusive leaders, i.e., leaders capable of attracting, inspiring and influencing people of all genders and ages, with different cultures, abilities and lifestyles.

Imagine a boat. This boat is your team, and the boat propeller is you, the inclusive leader. For a propeller to work properly, it needs at least three blades. Similarly, as an inclusive leader you need to consistently apply three skills: fairness, empathy, and proactivity. By doing so, you’ll take your boat, or your team, very far. You’ll navigate human differences smoothly. This is what I called the “Inclusive leadership propeller model ©”. In our last post we explored how to give life to fairness. This post is about how to exercise your empathy muscles.

Empathy – Are you treating others as they’d like to be treated?

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes so that you can understand how they feel, what drives them, and what they need. Empathy is essential to make others feel included, i.e., respected and valued for who they really are. Empathy also reinforces fairness, since to give everybody the same opportunities means, at times, treating people differently, depending on their needs.

When you put yourself in other people’s shoes, you realise what you have in common and also what makes you different. By understanding what you have in common with others, you can better connect with them at a personal level, which is the best way to build trust. By understanding what makes you different, you can adapt. The golden rule—Treat others as you’d like to be treated—is outdated in a diverse world. The platinum rule now is, Treat other as they’d like to be treated.

You’ll become more empathetic by practicing these three key habits:

  • Be curious about people

Observe, listen, and ask questions without being intrusive. That’s how you connect with people and understand what makes them tick. Inclusive leadership requires constant conversations, from human being to human being, beyond roles. When you share about yourself, you instigate others to do the same. I was once working as a consultant for a leading European group. I had just come back from my third maternity leave and was about to embark on a major training mission that involved a lot of travelling. I went to an event at the group’s headquarters, and there I met for the second time the group’s CEO, a man at the top of an organisation with over 40,000 employees. He remembered me, my name, and the fact that I had just come back from maternity leave. He asked me how I was and how my baby was. He also asked me if I had the support I needed at home while I was away on the mission. In three minutes, I became his biggest fan. He asked me questions that really mattered to me at that moment. He showed that he cared about me. Questions that my line manager at the time never asked me. My commitment to that mission went up by a thousand times. 

  • Be aware of your impact on others

To be aware of your impact on others, you should first be aware of your own style and preferences. And then you should ask for feedback.  I’ve known a manager who led a virtual global team. Some team members needed regular feedback about how they were doing but never got it. When I raised the topic with the manager, he told me that he personally didn’t need feedback to get going. He associated feedback with bad news. So, he assumed that his team was happy by not hearing from him: No news = Good news. The moment he asked for feedback about the way he was providing (or rather not providing) feedback to his team, he realised the negative impact he was having on the team’s engagement and performance. 

  • Adapt to people’s different styles and needs

Once you are aware of others’ and your preferences and needs, it’s important to be able to adapt not only your style but also the work organisation. I’ve seen a senior human resources leader who was an excellent communicator. She was American and often spoke to non-native English speakers. She carefully chose the words and the pace of her speech to make herself easily understood by her audience. All her videos were subtitled as well, which made life easier also for non-native English speakers. I also once met a site director who decided to open his canteen a bit later during the day to adapt to workers practicing the Ramadan.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below!

This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my bookSucceed as an inclusive leader – Winning leadership habits in a diverse world”. You can download for free the sample chapter “Supporting work-life integration” by clicking here.

This article was also published on Huffington Post. To get my weekly articles and videos directly in your inbox, sign up for my newsletter.


Check out my Inclusive Leadership Program that empowers business leaders and managers to attract and inspire diverse teams and increase team performance as a result.


THAIS COMPOINT is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, trainer and consultant specialising in inclusion and diversity in the corporate world. She is the founder of Déclic International, a consultancy based in the UK, the author of the book “Succeed as an inclusive leader”, and a regular Huffington Post contributor.  She has led the diversity strategies of three Fortune 500 companies, and received thirteen awards worldwide, including the Diversity Leader Award in the US as one of the diversity specialists who advanced diversity in the corporate world.


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