Why Empathy in Leadership Matters
November 24, 2017
I’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of empathy in leadership lately. Perhaps because so much of our current political and business landscape is populated by the polar opposite –people who are narcissistic, self-serving, perpetually blameless and power-hungry.
I firmly believe – and this is supported with data – that toxic leaders create toxic cultures. So why do some organizations still support and promote leaders (and therefore create cultures) that are aggressively competitive, vindictive and solely focused on results?
The problem is likely tied to long-standing support of the top-down, command and control or “carrot-and-stick” approach to management. It is still taught in business schools and rewarded in many industries, despite the massive amount of research that shows how counter-productive it is.
Consider some of the recent evidence that points to why empathy in leadership matters:
- Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the George Mason University School of Business found a “clear, positive correlation between compassionate behavior, work satisfaction and company success.”
- USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism conducted an exhaustive study among business leaders who identified the five most important leadership attributes, and right at the top was empathy.
- The Australian School of Business conducted a research study on the link between leadership and organizational success and found that, out of all the various elements in a business, the ability of a leader to be empathetic and compassionate had the greatest correlation with profitability and productivity.
More than ever, we need empathetic and compassionate leaders. Leaders who know how to relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Maybe it’ll take a new generation of workers to truly bring to light an era of authentic leadership, but I am seeing the wheels of change turning. If you are in a position to be an agent of change in your organization, here are the traits of an empathetic leader you should hire and train for:
- Self-control – Ability to regulate emotions, particularly in crisis or stressful situations; they have an intentional response to highly charged situations and people, rather than impulsively reacting.
- Self-awareness – An understanding of your strengths and weaknesses; can demonstrate vulnerability and admit mistakes.
- Communication – Lead by example, rather than by direction; are mindful to the effect their words and actions have on others.
- Other-centered – Open-minded and open-hearted; spend time being emotional observers of others, rather than being initiators.
- Kindness — Remove judgment and criticism of others as a motivational strategy; empathetic and compassionate listeners.
- Unselfishness – Promote trust and collaboration; sensitive to others’ feeling and emotional states.