Degale headshot

By Degale Cooper,
Chief Executive Officer

In many workplaces, leading with empathy is an overlooked skill that is not measured in performance reviews. Empathetic leadership allows organizations to be aware of the thoughts and feelings of their teams and to offer exceptional care and consideration to staff members. The practice of empathy within the workplace is even more important today given society’s changing landscape — the economy, the ongoing pandemic response, the homelessness crisis and more.

Empathy in leading a nonprofit

My dedication to the community and leadership has been built on a solid foundation of empathy. I began working with YouthCare as a 19-year-old college intern and House Counselor at what was known then as The Shelter. Throughout my years of service, and in my new position as CEO, I have seen this organization as one that thrives on the ability to make deep, lasting connections with young people. This emphasis on empathy allows us to build impactful relationships with young people in what may be some of the most difficult moments in their lives.

Empathy is at the center of my commitment as a nonprofit leader; I focus on taking good care of our team members so that they can take diligent care of those we serve. I have learned about what’s important to individual employees and teams, and I have a greater understanding of the unique needs and goals of each team member. It takes all of us working together and recognizing each other through respectful and kind engagement to build a positive and supportive workplace culture.

Creating opportunities that allow team members to share what they are excited about in doing their work and making space in our day-to-day operations for them to share their interests and talents contributes significantly to overall employee satisfaction. When managers show an authentic empathetic interest in their team members and each other, we can achieve remarkable success together.

Empathy in youth work

If your work focuses on youth and young adults as mine does, you likely already know that empathy is a critical piece of the puzzle. Passion and commitment to serving young people, and ensuring that organizations and businesses are effective advocates for them, must be driven by empathy. The ability to relate your mission to the needs of the young people you are championing is the core of all youth work.

In addition, to transform lives through the highest quality services possible, we need to recruit, support and keep the best workforce possible. Excellent service requires excellent staff, and that means investing in your team. We as business leaders must get this right because young people are counting on us to help them change the world.

Final thoughts

I am committed to building an empathetic workplace culture. And most importantly, I am leading by example by caring for our people; other business leaders must be ready to follow suit.

Leaders who understand and show empathy in the workplace will experience the transformative power of connection and trust within their work teams. Developing and enhancing one’s empathy skills is possible for every leader, whether it comes naturally or is something you must work on building. When we engage authentically with our staff, we build the connectivity that leads to improved staff retention and measurable impacts on performance.

It’s true for any kind of company: Culture is key. Be inquisitive and listen deeply. This compassionate curiosity will build authentic connections with your teams and model empathetic leadership. Ensuring you are fostering an empathetic workplace will create a culture of inclusivity, resulting in increased collaboration and loyalty.

See Degale’s original article published in the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Connect directly with YouthCare’s CEO Degale Cooper here.
Support YouthCare’s transformational work with youth here.