Kyle Norrington, president of Labatt Breweries of Canada, credits his father with imparting an enduring leadership lesson that still influences his professional interactions today: the power of empathy to inspire engagement and high performance in others.

“What I learned at a pretty young age was to be able to ask the right questions at the right moments and empathize with the people I work with,” Norrington says. “To be a great leader, fundamentally, you need to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes and understand the state they’re in. And it’s so much easier to motivate and inspire if you do that.”

Norrington has been with Labatt in various sales and marketing roles for more than 20 years, taking over the role of CEO in 2018. He says his extensive background in marketing has given him a unique perspective on what it means to practice empathetic leadership and emotional intelligence in the workplace.

While Norrington acknowledges that practicing empathetic leadership takes time, he says the benefits are worth the effort. He cautions leaders against simply practicing empathy on a surface level, as this will likely be met with resistance.

“People are already guarded when they see leaders with an empathetic approach because it can still be a bit of a foreign concept in many workplaces,” Norrington says. “So, if you’re inauthentic in leading with empathy, it can really backfire. But when those you lead recognize that it is real, it’s super empowering.”

Norrington recommends three ways of leading with empathy:

1. Empower your people

Empower employees with the tools they need to grow professionally and perform at the top of their game while allowing them to take ownership over decision-making and problem-solving within your organization. By showing people you really care about their wants, needs and professional growth, you’ll gain leadership credibility and trust.

“Find great people, empower them and then get the hell out of the way. These are the key ingredients to developing high-performance yields,” says Norrington, who credits Labatt’s culture of ownership and leadership development with keeping him with the company for over two decades.

“It’s not a 15-minute meeting or some button you press on your computer,” he says. “We sit down and we talk about strengths and opportunities. How do we empower somebody more? How do we build a piece of their skill-set that they don’t have today but they’re going to need in their job two and a half years from now?”

2. Level the playing field

Formality has a way of creeping its way into organizations and creating an unnecessary barrier between people at different levels, which stifles communication and innovation and hinders the ability to practice empathetic leadership. Norrington recommends ditching traditional corporate formality in favor of a more open, informal environment that gives everyone a voice and facilitates a free-flow of ideas.

“I’ve always believed great ideas can come from anywhere — and if you think it’s only going to come from your senior vice presidents, you’re missing the boat.”

3. Support diversity of thought and representation

Encouraging members of your organization to bring differing perspectives, backgrounds and experiences to the table will not only boost your credibility as an empathetic leader who cares, but cultivating a diverse culture truly allows organizations to thrive.

“If you’re not part of a diverse team, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great stuff,” says Norrington, who sees empathetic leadership as a two-way street in which you should gain as much knowledge as you give.


Taking an authentic, people-first approach at every level in an organization sets the stage for a culture that everyone believes in. Leading with empathy sets the stage for extraordinary success, in good times and in bad.


  • Craig Dowden, Ph.D.

    Certified Positive Psychology Coach and best-selling author of "Do Good to Lead Well"

    Craig Dowden, Ph.D., a certified positive psychology coach, is on a mission to share evidence-based leadership principles. In particular, he is passionate about sharing the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence with the people he serves. An inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach and an award-winning keynote speaker, Dowden partners with clients from diverse industries and sectors, who benefit from his drive, passion and insight. Dowden prides himself in providing world-class content to his clients. To date, he has interviewed over 65 CEOs of top North American companies, including McDonald’s, IKEA and VIA Rail. He has also interviewed widely known best-selling authors and TED speakers, including Marshall Goldsmith, Daniel Pink, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Barry Schwartz, Marilee Adams, Adam Bryant and Doug Stone. He routinely integrates these conversations and insights into his client work. Dowden combines the key learnings from these interviews, along with evidence-based principles from the fields of psychology, leadership and organizational excellence in his best-selling book, Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership (ForbesBooks, Feb. 8, 2019). The book outlines the return on investment of the six pillars of positive leadership – self-awareness, civility, humility, focus on the positive, meaning/purpose and empathy – and provides a practical and engaging roadmap showing how executives can effectively demonstrate these behaviors within their day to-day leadership practice, for their benefit, as well as for the benefit of the teams and organizations they lead. Called “ideal reading for people who want to make a positive impact in their organizations” by best-selling author Daniel Pink, Do Good to Lead Well is resonating with top corporate executives and international thought leaders, with endorsements from best-selling authors and top-rated TED speakers such as Adam Grant and Marshall Goldsmith, as well as over 20 CEOs of leading organizations. Dowden shares his views and expertise through articles published regularly in business and HR publications including the Financial Post, HR Professional, Canadian HR Reporter, Canadian Manager, the Huffington Post (U.S.) and Psychology Today. Dowden was recognized as one of Ottawa’s “Forty under 40” business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal, a select group of individuals who “exemplify leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.” He will be a regular contributor to in February 2019 upon publication of his book. Dowden received his Doctorate in Psychology with a concentration in Business from Carleton University and completed his Bachelor of Science in psychology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He currently lives in Toronto. For more information, please visit