When it comes to being a successful leader, empathy is key. Leaders need to be able to put themselves in their employees' shoes and understand their feelings and motivations to effectively lead them. When leaders lack empathy, they can make bad decisions that negatively impact their team. This article will discuss the importance of empathy for leaders and offer strategies for encouraging empathetic leadership within your organisation.
What exactly is empathetic leadership?
Empathic leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on understanding and connecting with others. Empathetic leaders can see the world from their employees' perspectives and make decisions that consider their needs and feelings. This type of leadership is vital because it can help build trust, foster communication, and motivate employees.
Merriam Webster defines empathy as " the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner."
Empathy is different from sympathy, which is when you feel bad for someone else who is experiencing a difficult situation. Empathy allows you to truly understand what another person is going through and connect with them on a deeper level.
Why do leaders need empathy?
There are many reasons why empathy is important for leaders. Firstly, studies show that empathetic managers perform better than those who lack empathy. According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, which analysed data from 6,731 managers in more than three dozen countries, "empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance."
"In other words, managers who practice empathetic leadership toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their jobs by their bosses. The findings were consistent across the sample: those managers who were rated as empathetic by subordinates were also rated as high performing by their own boss," read the study.
Not only does empathy improve job performance, but it can also help build trust between leaders and employees. When leaders can understand and relate to their employees, they are more likely to trust them. This is because they know that the leader understands their feelings and experiences. As a result, employees are more likely to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with their leader.
Empathy can also help motivate employees. When leaders can see things from their employees' perspectives, they can better understand what motivates them. This allows leaders to provide the appropriate motivation and encouragement that employees need to be successful.
Last year, Tracy Brower, who holds a PhD in sociology, wrote a Forbes article titled "Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research." She summarised the findings of several studies that suggest empathy is essential for leaders because it leads to more innovation, a lower retention rate, greater inclusivity, and improved work-life balance.
"76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy," she wrote.
"Empathy contributes to positive relationships and organisational cultures, and it also drives results. Empathy may not be a brand new skill, but it has a new level of importance and the fresh research makes it especially clear how empathy is the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work," she added.