Empathy in leadership is one of the keys to success of a consulting firm, Fortune 500 company, small start-up, or non-profit. Beyond developing personal connections and being empathetic for the sake of being a good person, empathy is important in leadership at work because it increases trust, communication, and a sense of worth for team members. Top companies across industries agree that empathy is the most important leadership skill. However, while it may be easy to be empathetic with friends, expressing vulnerability at the workplace may feel like a weakness. Afterall, you may feel that your livelihood is on the line or in competition with others for recognition or promotion.
Moreover, empathy in action means putting someone’s needs ahead of your own, which can feel like a detriment in today’s competitive corporate atmosphere. At the end of the day, empathy is a core part of most healthy, corporate cultures and leadership strategies. Why is empathy important in leadership? What exactly are the benefits of empathy in leadership in corporate spaces? We’ll explore these questions in this article.
What is Empathy in Leadership
What is empathy in leadership, really? Are there common empathy leadership traits across industries? One of the most important facets of empathy in leadership is listening. This means giving space for people to voice their opinions in an honest way, without risk of repercussion. However, empathy is not to be confused with sympathy. Sympathy is showing concern for someone’s situation from your own position, as opposed to empathy, which is understanding a situation from someone else’s perspective without judgment. Now let’s consider why empathy is important in leadership.
Why is Empathy Important in Leadership?
So, why is empathy important in leadership? Why not rule with an iron fist? If it gets the job done, it can spare small talk and monotonous pleasantries, when all anyone really wants is a paycheck, right? This may seem logical for those who prefer to get work done and get on their way. However, experts agree that empathy not only has a place in leadership, but that empathy is the most important leadership skill.
Giving space for employees to voice their opinions allows them to own up to failures without shame and to provide feedback and suggestions for ways to improve the company. This way, different opinions can be used to inform major decisions as a leader. The challenge to this approach could be, “Why does it matter what they think? I know what’s best for the company!” Besides being shortsighted, this mindset is dangerous because top talent retention is a key component of successful companies. If the best employees do not feel heard and respected, they will not think twice about leaving for a company culture embedded with empathy from the leadership team.
Benefits of Empathy in Leadership
There are many benefits of empathy in leadership. Empathy in leadership can be strategically employed to increase worker satisfaction and company productivity. Creating a positive work environment is perhaps the biggest reason as to why empathy is important in leadership. A positive work environment contributes to greater employee retention and greater output or rates of success. When employees are stressed out of fear of repercussion, they are more likely to play it safe and will collaborate less. This fear-based work environment is not conducive to innovation, employee satisfaction, and company productivity at large.
Self-care is in style. In building a team to later lead, empathy in the hiring process helps establish a culture of care. Empathy leadership traits like emotional intelligence and flexibility facilitates a greater capacity to handle unexpected problems. These traits promote creativity, a hugely important quality to sustain success in business. These are among the most important reasons why empathy is important in leadership.
Empathy in Leadership Examples
Where has empathy in leadership been employed? How are empathy leadership traits applied to instill respect and promote success? Empathy in leadership examples abound, if you know where to look. Leading with empathy can take two forms. The first of the empathy in leadership examples is a simple test of the golden rule. As a leader, ask yourself, “How would I feel in their shoes at this moment?” Following this up by asking questions and listening to responses directly is a great way for leaders to show that they genuinely care for their employees.
The second form of empathy leadership requires action. This means offering help and taking a “servant leader” approach. Showing employees that you too serve the company and grind out work (ideally at an inspiring level), will foster respect and encourage top-quality work ethic from others. Demonstrating humility and a strong work ethic are both empathy leadership traits.
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is empathy in leadership?”, it should be clear that the importance of empathy in leadership cannot be overstated. It is often the key to a company’s arch of success or spiral towards failure. It’s no wonder that increasing research on corporate leadership points to the same answer: empathy is the most important leadership skill.