Leading with Empathy with Melissa Cohen (#13)

Leading with Empathy with Melissa Cohen

In this episode I have a wide ranging conversation about leading with empathy with Melissa Cohen, a fashion industry executive. She offers some great advice and insight you don’t want to miss!

Melissa and I talk about about what empathy looks like, how to develop empathy and why it’s so important to have empathy as a leader today. And of course we talk about Brene Brown because who can have a conversation about empathy without taking about her!

About Melissa Cohen

Melissa Cohen is a fashion industry executive who has led teams at well known American brands including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfger and Nautica. She has led product development, sourcing and production across various categories for men’s, women’s and children’s apparel. In 2020 Melissa launched her own consulting business, providing her expertise to start-up and growth stage brands.

Passionate about girls and women’s empowerment, she is a founding member of Chief (New York City chapter) – a private network built to drive more women into positions of power and keep them there. Melissa is also deeply involved with Her Move Next – a grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and young girls through chess, community and competition.

In her free time, Melissa enjoys reading, Broadway musicals, watching sports and all things pumpkin spice.

How to Contact Melissa

LinkedIn: ⁠@melissa-cohen-8445067


Brené Brown
Brené Brown empathy video
Simon Sinek
Madeline Albright
The Artist’s Way – Morning Pages
Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything – BJ Fogg
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Good As Hell – Lizzo
Duran Duran
Def Leppard
Thin profile velvet hangers
Sleep mask


[02:42] Melissa introduces herself
[05:48] Melissa describes her leadership experience
[08:57] How Melissa leads with empathy
[11:18] Explaining the difference between empathy and sympathy
[13:58] Chatting about the value of Brené Brown’s empathy short video
[16:13] Practing active listening as a component of empathy
[17:59] Melissa shares an example of using empathy to lead her team
[23:02] Mental health days are just a bandaid for burnout
[26:54] How company policies can disrupt the perception of empathy
[27:30] Feeling guilt for not doing enough
[30:17] What Melissa wishes she would have known when she started as a leader
[34:45] The mentor who made a difference in Melissa’s career
[40:04] The daily routine Melissa attributes her wellness to
[44:06] The song that hypes up Melissa when she needs an energy boost
[46:29] The one purchase <$100 that has made a difference in Melissa’s life
[50:08] The books Melissa recommends you read


I really love what I do because it allows me to work cross-functionally with so many different teams within an organization.

I think it’s really important to be flexible as a leader I think it’s really important to be decisive and goal-oriented I think it’s really important to know what the company expects of you and your team and what everybody is marching towards but always putting people first.

Leading from a place of empathy is really one of the greatest skills that a leader can aspire to attain

Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable one and I’ve always tried to remember that like you can choose to be empathetic you can choose not to be empathetic.

In the workplace in leadership empathy can look you know like really different things but you know for me personally it’s really taking other perspectives into consideration showing compassion and making sure that pretty much everybody involved has a voice in the discussion and it’s a really important thing is not talking over people not interrupting people when they’re speaking.

I think listening is one of the most important that we can do in the workplace and one of the most important things we can do from a point of compassion and empathy as well.

There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t look out for other women. – Madeline Albright

I think leading with empathy means just being aware of what’s going on in other people’s lives.

We’re talking about quiet quitting people are no longer staying where they don’t feel valued and I’m seeing people leaving roles when they don’t even well-being is what matters and their family is what matters.

You don’t have to be perfect you know I I think as women we really put a lot of pressure on ourselves and when I was first in a leadership role even when I was first just managing people I was always really afraid of making a mistake and that’s kind of silly right because we’re all human we all make mistakes.





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