A lot of people, especially leaders, talk about empathy and how much of it they possess. They speak about it as if empathy alone was enough to prove that they care about people. But it isn’t.
Empathy is understanding how someone feels and sharing their feelings with them. If what you do requires that you work with human beings, empathy will make you more effective. This is especially true if you are a leader, as all your results are generated through others, and this connection is powerful.
Compassion is something different. Compassion is sympathy and concern for the suffering of others. Compassion requires more than an understanding and sharing someone else’s feelings. Compassion requires action, namely doing what you can to help alleviate the suffering.
Empathy is imagining walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Compassion is recognizing that those shoes are two sizes too small and helping the person into a pair of shoes that fit.
Understanding isn’t enough. Neither is shared feelings. These things are nice, but it doesn’t move the needle when it comes to making a difference. What makes a difference is the action you take to make things better.