People in an office celebrating success

Carrie Golvash outlines her approach to empathetic leadership

Throughout our careers, we are always learning and working towards improving our leadership skills. For me, that means my own leadership style has not only been influenced by my predecessor, but it is also shaped day-to-day by those around me. 

I saw my predecessor make some tough decisions and take a firm stance when she needed to. I also saw her flex when it was in the best interests of the team and the business. Fundamentally, one of the most important principles she emphasized is that we are all individuals and our contribution to the team depends on us feeling valued and bringing our best self to our role. As leaders, valuing every member of the team and enabling each individual to be the best they can be is a central task. So how can an empathetic leadership style make sure teams feel valued and equip them to perform? 

Engaging with individuals 

Empathetic leadership is all about being able to put yourself in the shoes of each team member, understanding what motivates and inspires them, along with what recognition looks like to them. And it’s important to have that understanding in context, which is where empathy really elevates people management in leadership. An empathetic leader understands what matters to each individual on the team, both in the workplace and in their lives, including challenges they could be facing, or ambitions they may have both for their careers and outside of work. 

This doesn’t mean creating an environment where people feel compelled to overshare. Instead, an empathetic leader creates an environment where individuals feel supported and confident enough to trust them with personal information if they need to. For my predecessor, part of that process was to encourage us to read a book called ‘Rest: why you get more done when you work less’ by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. It was a clear indictor that she valued creativity and dedication over presenteeism, that she knew we were busy and under pressure, and that she wanted us to understand the importance of taking care of ourselves as an integral component of doing a good job. 

Those are principles at the heart of empathetic leadership. If we care about our team members, they feel valued, and that sense of self-worth encourages them to care about their job. By being invested in a team member and what makes them tick, a leader develops a person who is invested in achieving to the very best of their ability. 

Trust and rapport

Carrie Golvash, VP Marketing at SGK
Carrie Golvash, VP Marketing at SGK

Building that rapport and developing trust is a skill that every leader should have. It is a principle founded on taking the time to ask questions, then genuinely listening and being interested in the answers. As a leader, it is important to be firm sometimes. There will always be tough choices to make for anyone in a leadership role, but only by building trust and making team members feel able to share what’s going on for them can a leader know whether flex or firmness will deliver the most desirable outcome for the business and the team. 

Moreover, that trust needs to travel in both directions. An empathetic leader needs to show that they are capable of learning too. Listening to and responding to feedback, and admitting if you’ve not got something quite right, builds trust and enables team members to feel comfortable providing honest feedback. Just as importantly, it also ensures that the leader is truly leading by example, mentoring the team in how to accept and learn from feedback themselves. 


There is a common workplace culture of feeling that everything has to get done, otherwise there will be failure and blame. But with empathetic leadership, a heavy workload becomes a problem shared. People feel empowered to speak up and, collaboratively, the team can work together to prioritize tasks, share responsibility and ensure that what really needs to get done is accomplished.  

In any context, people work better as a team when they understand and appreciate each other – those principles are the cornerstone of empathetic leadership. 

Carrie Golvash is VP Marketing at global packaging and brand experience company, SGK. SGK, a division of Matthews International Corp (MATW), is a brand and content powerhouse focused on brand creation, activation, and stewardship, providing global solutions to a variety of market verticals, including food and beverage, home and personal care, and lifestyle.