Tag Archives: empathy

Keeping hold of your authenticity as a manager, leader and coach

By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th May 2020

Many of the people that I work with, on RiverRhee’s management courses, and also in one-to-one coaching, are either relatively new to management, or transitioning from a management to a leadership role.

One of the things that we stress in our leadership course is the importance of being authentic: being true to yourself.  People respond to who you are.  If this is at odds with what you say and do, this can not only cause stress to yourself, but also affect other people’s trust in you.

So how does this sit with Goleman’s (2000) description of different leadership styles, and the suggestion that leaders should flex their style to meet different situational requirements?  And how does that sit with the concept of a manager as coach?

Daniel Goleman's leadership styles

There may be some answers from Frei and Morriss (2020) in their HBR article: “Begin with trust.  The first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader”.


Authenticity is when you are being “the real you”: in terms of what you know, what you believe, what you think and how you feel.

Many of us are aware that we are different when at work to how we are at home. Why is that?  What is making us behave differently?  What are we holding back of our better selves in one or the other environment?

I’d be intrigued to know whether the “current situation” (as many of us are calling it), where many people find themselves working from home, or otherwise dealing with exceptional circumstances, is making a difference.  Are we being more open, more genuine, more consistently our true selves?  If so, what difference is that making to the quality of our interactions with others? Is it creating more trust?


Empathy is the second of three components that Frei and Morriss (2020) suggest are essential for creating trust.  It’s an easy quality to recognise that managers and leaders have needed to tap into at the present time.

Many people are juggling so many conflicting demands: looking after children at home or worrying about elderly parents whilst still trying to meet expectations for their work.

Empathy sits well with the affiliative leadership style where people come first. It relies on creating harmony and building emotional bonds. It’s great for motivating people during times of stress.

Empathy also sits well with a coaching style of leadership: one where you are paying attention to an individual’s strengths and values as well as their feelings, and supporting them in their development.

Could a leader, who is not naturally empathetic, argue against digging deep within themselves to find some empathy when a situation demands it on the grounds that this is not their authentic self?

Perhaps their loss of authenticity, and the risk to how others trust them, would be to go overboard with the empathy, rather than not demonstrating any at all when the situation does demand it?

The role of logic

Logic is the last of the three components in Frei and Morriss’s (2020) triangle of trust.

Logic is needed to be able to effectively communicate the information and data supporting a course of action that you are advocating.

Logic is an important asset for the authoritative style of leadership: where a manager or leader is communicating a vision to encourage people to adopt a new way of working for example. Interestingly, Goleman also lists empathy as one of the qualities for authoritative leadership.

The democratic leadership style also relies on information and data: where a leader is seeking input to shape the new way forward. Although Goleman does not emphasise empathy as a component of this style, it is a collaborative one.

So, can a manager or leader (or coach) be authentic and still switch into either one of these two other styles of leadership, using logic effectively, when the situation demands it? Without acting against their character, and without jeopardising trust? Again, to be able to do so would seem both desirable and possible and, in the right situation, likely to inspire trust in the leader.

It may be that being able to access and communicate information and data at the necessary level of detail is not something that comes naturally to all managers and leaders. In which case, the important thing is to be conscious of this and either develop this ability, or ask for support from others in the team.  Pretending to be more knowledgeable, or being otherwise misleading would certainly jeopardise trust.

A look at coercive and pace-setting leadership styles

These two styles are described as ‘negative’ ones in that they demand instant action and cooperation from the team.  There is no room for empathy, consultation or collaboration.

These are perhaps the two styles that raise the greatest questions, for me, about authenticity.  If either one is someone’s natural style, then it will be harder for them to switch to any of the other four.  And vice versa.

We know why managers and leaders need to be able to switch into the other four, as described above.

There may also be occasions though when the coercive or pace-setting styles are appropriate:

  • The coercive style of leadership may be needed in a crisis, when time is of the essence, when health, safety, security or the company’s reputation are at stake
  • The pacesetting style of leadership may also be appropriate when time is short and work needs to be delivered to a specified quality or turn-around time.  It’s likely to work best when everyone knows exactly what they need to do and are competent and motivated to do so.

By definition both these leadership styles would seem to be ones to adopt in the short-term, before reverting to one of the other four more collaborative or empathetic styles.

Could a manager or leader (or coach) still feel they are being authentic if they were to switch into one of these two styles, if it was not their most natural?


How are these reflections resonating with you?

Who is the authentic you?

Do you inspire trust in your team as a manager or leader, or in the people that you coach?

What role do empathy and logic play in this?

Do you, or could you flex your leadership style?  What would be the impact?



Thank you to Liz Mercer of Perla Development, and to Nicki and Tim Hedin (my learning buddies from Barefoot Coaching’s Cohort 57) , for helping me to reflect on the concept of authenticity and its link to leadership and coaching.


Goleman, D. (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March-April,

Frei, F. and Morriss, A. (2020) Begin with trust.  The first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader. Harvard Business Review, May-June, pp. 112-121

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

Selling to customers – partnerships and mindsets

By Elisabeth Goodman, 23rd September 2016

I attended the first run through of RiverRhee’s The First Steps in Selling course this week, run by my Associate, John Hicks.  It was fun to be a delegate for a change!

Delegates completing RiverRhee's "The First Steps in Selling" course, September 2016

Delegates completing RiverRhee’s “The First Steps in Selling” course, September 2016

Although the course was geared towards the small Life Science  or Biotech companies that we work with, the key messages apply to any business that is selling its products or services.

A lot is down to creating a sense of partnership with your potential or existing customer, and to the mindset with which you approach the discussion.

John walked us through a very helpful framework to develop and enhance our selling technique. I won’t share the detail of that framework here, but rather some key messages that I took away:

1.  Selling begins once you have a lead with which to begin a discussion

You can only begin to have a discussion with an existing or potential customer if they have expressed an interest in having the conversation.  So all the work involved in market research and other marketing activities will have already taken place.  The good news is that you will not be going into the discussion cold – however, there is still a lot to do before you can actually complete the sale!

2.  Conduct the discussion in a spirit of partnership

The customer has expressed interest in having the discussion with you because they perceive that you might, in some way, be able to help them.  So the discussion should be around exploring the challenge or opportunity that led them to get in touch, and working with them to find a solution.  The spirit of partnership comes from that collaboration to help them with this.

3.  Create a sense of empathy / build rapport

This will help you to truly understand your customer and effectively explore how you might be able to help them.  Empathy and rapport will help you to have an open conversation that gets to the root of their challenge or the opportunity they would like to explore.  It is likely that there are emotional as well as intellectual factors involved in this.  Understanding these will help to make the eventual solution more effective too.  There are lots of great open questions that can help you with this.

4.  Help your customer to develop their knowledge base

Your customer will be in the best position to make an effective decision about the solution that they want to adopt, if they have the necessary knowledge to do so.  You may find that you are the best placed to help them with that knowledge, whether the eventual solution is to go with your product or service or not!  Which brings us to the next key message.

5. Exercise integrity in your interactions

It may well be that your product or service is not the best solution for your (potential) customer’s challenge or opportunity.  They will value your integrity if you are honest about this.  Even if they don’t buy from you this time, you will have earned their trust for potential future sales opportunities.  And of course, if they do buy from you, you will also have set the scene for future positive discussions.

ABOUT THE author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Empathy – the magical leadership ingredient?

Empathy can make a difference in every situation that we find ourselves in as leaders or managers

I recently read Geoff Crane‘s chapter 55 ‘Empathy in Project Management’ in the ‘Gower Handbook of People in Project Management‘. It’s a very large book, with a wealth of fascinating information, so I’m dipping into it a chapter at a time, and giving myself time to reflect on each one.

I really enjoyed Geoff’s chapter, and believe our ability to be empathetic can make a difference not only in Project Management, but in every leadership or people management role that we may have.

As Geoff explains in his chapter, empathy is different from sympathy in that the ‘listener’ not only acknowledges another person’s (the ‘speaker’s’) emotions but actually connects with them by ‘vicariously experiencing’ their feelings, seeing things through their eyes, or ‘getting into their shoes’.  Empathy requires active listening, picking up things that the other person may not even be saying.

Active listening?

Geoff shares a ‘behavioural change stairway model’ adapted from Vecchi et al.(1)  In it he shows that whilst active listening is a precursor of empathy, empathy in turn leads to rapport and so influence and the ability to effect behavioural change.

So, whilst empathy required us to emotionally connect with the other person, we still need to retain our own sense of self, and this is what enables us, as leaders, to then take some appropriate action to influence the ‘speaker’ to achieve a desired outcome.

This is what I have been reflecting about since I read Geoff’s chapter.

The role of empathy in project and line management

When we are responsible for a project, or for a team, should we be task or people focused?  The answer is both.  But whilst we can delegate aspects of the task management to members of our team, ultimately, the responsibility for the people within the team rests with the manager.  If we don’t recognise and respond to the needs of the individuals within the team, and to the dynamics between them, then we will never achieve a high performing team, or see each individual performing to their full potential.

Some people may think this is ‘too touchy feely’, and that we are all independent grown-ups without the need for ‘molly coddling’, but what is the reality of what happens in teams?  Aren’t the emotions visibly there (or thinly disguised) on a day-to-day basis? So as team leaders, wouldn’t we do better to acknowledge that and work with the emotions rather than ignore them?

(By the way the next chapter I read will probably be number 53, Deanne Earle’s on ‘Emotional Intelligence in Project Management’.  Geoff Crane has put up pictures of all us contributing authors and the themes of our chapters on his website – The Papercut Project Manager.  I also wrote a short blog referencing my chapter on Team Development.)

Empathy in change Management

Our APM Enabling Change SIG committee are currently working on a glossary of terms associated with Change Management.  We’re having a bit of a debate around the definition of ‘resistance’ in Change Management.  Is it a barrier to be overcome, as is commonly described by Change Management practitioners?  Or is it something that, in our role as leaders, we should be helping to surface and understand, so that we can respond to what we learn about the ‘speaker’ and use this not only to influence the ‘speaker’ but also to improve on our Change Management plans?  Isn’t that empathy truly at play?  I take the latter approach in my book ‘The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook’.

A further thought: change agents recognise the importance of communicating the benefits of change, and of doing it in the context of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).  There is surely an emotional context to that which requires change agents to empathise with – hence the value of asking such questions as: “If this change was successful for you, what would that look, feel or sound like?”

Empathy makes for better facilitation too!

A recent client very kindly said that he uses me as a facilitator because I understand his organisation and the people within it.  We know that the most effective facilitators disconnect from the content of workshops and discussions that we facilitate, and focus instead on providing the right tools and guiding the dynamics of what’s happening.  We need to tune into the emotions involved, and judge when and how to intervene to help the participants achieve their overall goals.

Empathy also helps us to be effective trainers, mentors and coaches

A friend of ours recently died from cancer.  For a short while he’d taught my daughter to improve her guitar playing.  At his funeral service another student talked about how special our friend had been in effectively being able to empathise with his students and help them to achieve whatever it was that they needed – and it wasn’t just about learning to play the instrument – it was about wider aspects of their lives.  I recognised what he was saying from how I’d seen and heard him work with my daughter.

Isn’t empathy what distinguishes a skillful trainer, mentor or coach from a mediocre one?  Which of your teachers do you remember best?  Was it empathy that distinguished them from the others?

(I wrote more broadly about the qualities of trainers, mentors and coaches, in my RiverRhee Newsletters on the ‘coaching continuum‘.)

With empathy we as leaders can give the people that we work with some of the most valuable gifts in life: the time, the space, and ultimately the skills, to achieve what will help them to be successful as ’empowered’ individuals and as members of our teams.  Doesn’t that make empathy a magical leadership ingredient?


  1. Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J. (2005).  ‘Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution’, Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 533-51.

Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer,  facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also a Growth Coach with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.