4 Reasons Why Empathy Is Essential for Excellent Leadership
I think it’s time to talk about empathy again.
Look around at our world and the struggles people seem to be having. There seems to be a growing movement based on hostile values, in which attributes like sensitivity and empathy are seen as weaknesses. I have to be honest – this is very troubling to me, and I worry about the impact it will have on the next generation of leaders.
To me, there is nothing weak about sensitivity or empathy. Displaying these qualities takes tremendous strength, in fact. For leaders, empathy, in particular, is a “soft skill” that can lead to concrete results, in addition to a more energized and engaged workforce.
Yes, I have written about empathy at length in the past. But I believe it is a subject that deserves greater attention in our current landscape. In fact, I would go so far as to say there is an empathy emergency happening in our world.
Empathy may be a “soft skill,” but that is no reason to underestimate it. The ability to master soft skills like empathy, communication, collaboration, flexibility and conflict resolution is absolutely critical to leadership. “Hard skills,” which include things like typing proficiency, computer-programming aptitude, writing ability, mathematical competency and other technical skills, are obviously important. But those skills have nothing to do with the qualities that make leaders compelling or successful.
So, what makes a soft skill like empathy so crucial for leaders?
The 4 Reasons Why You Need Empathy to Lead Effectively
In my opinion, effective leadership simply does not exist without empathy. I feel this way because of experience: Every leader who has inspired me throughout my life and career has been extraordinarily empathetic. On the other hand, whenever I encounter leaders who lead ineffectively, the common ingredient that seems to be missing is empathy. It is huge! And you cannot ignore this quality if you want to be the kind of leader who inspires, engages and drives the culture within your organization.
But let’s take the exploration of empathy and leadership a little deeper. Here are some of the key reasons why you must integrate empathy into your array of skills in order to become the best leader you can be:
#1 – Empathy Allows You to Truly Know Your Audience
One of the most essential aspects of your leadership role is to be convincing. You are in your role to inspire others so they can work to the best of their respective abilities. And guess what? That’s almost impossible to do without empathy.
Understanding the motivations, passions, emotions, drives, desires and states of mind of your people gives you the ability to meet them where they are, which, in turn, gives you the power to connect on a level that’s deeper than “manager and employee.” Empathy helps you to forge connections that energize people to work in an inspired, engaged manner.
Without empathy, you may never know if you are actually reaching your people effectively. But with it, you will always have a sense of your true leadership impact.
#2 – Empathy Drives Employee Satisfaction Levels Upward
Leadership is next to impossible when employees are continually dissatisfied.
However, when leaders employ empathy, it destroys dissatisfaction. Empathetic leaders make their people feel heard, seen and appreciated, even during times of great stress or struggle within organizations. Empathy drives commitment to organizational goals. Additionally, leaders who demonstrate empathy see absenteeism decrease considerably among the people on their teams. Simply put, leaders who lead with empathy have happier employees, which translates to a healthier organization and a more robust bottom line.
#3 – Empathy Erases Barriers
These days, leaders often find themselves placed in charge of teams comprised of diverse groups of individuals. People from different cultures, different generations and with different values must come together around the same goals. Without strong, empathetic leadership, this is incredibly difficult!
When you connect with your people using empathy, it tends to dissolve the barriers that might otherwise cause friction when bringing diverse groups of people together. People see that you respect their backgrounds and their values, which helps them bring their unique talents to the table more readily. There is tremendous value in diversity, but without empathy from leaders, teams can form factions, grinding productivity and engagement to a halt. When leaders show that empathy is valued, team members come together with greater vulnerability, respect and dedication to doing great work.
#4 – Empathy Helps to Create Healthier Organizational Culture
It is not enough for leaders to act with empathy; they must also work to create cultures of empathy within their respective organizations. They do this by modeling empathetic behavior, as described in the previous point. But they must also keep an eye on instilling empathy as a value within teams and individuals.
Of course, acting with empathy is the first step on the path to creating cultures of empathy within organizations.
In the coming weeks, this blog will cover how leaders can not only become more empathetic but also how they can extend their personal empathy throughout their organizations. Stay tuned to this space!
Empathy and Healthy Boundaries
When it comes to empathy, can there be too much of a good thing?
It is true that empathy is a quality that is sorely lacking in many of today’s leaders and organizations. We definitely need more of it in our world, and part of my mission is to ensure that it is considered a top leadership value. However, there is a dark side to empathy when it is practiced and developed without healthy boundaries.
It is common for empathetic people to lose themselves in the feelings of others. They become so attuned to the people they encounter that they begin to lose sight of themselves in the process. This is where boundaries need to come in.
Personal boundaries help leaders keep their empathy in check so they can always be sure they know where they end and other people begin. While becoming more empathetic, people can lose track of their own thoughts, feelings, values and opinions. They can also get too caught up in the emotional turmoil of others.
Boundaries help you protect yourself and the qualities that make you unique. They also keep you from becoming overloaded with the emotions experienced by other people. Regulating empathy is not as simple as turning it on and off; rather, it is something you will have to learn to moderate subtly as you become more attuned to it.
August Is Empathy Month in the Leaders Edge Blog!
As I mentioned above, I will be continuing this series of blog posts on empathy for the next several weeks. August is a great time to cover this topic because business tends to be a little slower and less intense. So you probably have a little more time and space to go inward and work on your personal leadership development. Regardless, I am excited to be bringing my thoughts on this important topic to you!
Check in next week for a piece that debunks some of the more commonly held empathy myths. You might be surprised by what I have to say!
Have questions, comments or ideas to share? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.