The Empathy Advantage: Why Empathy Skills Matter for Leaders
Empathy, often described as the ability to understand other people’s feelings and situation (“putting oneself into their shoes”), has emerged as a crucial skill for leaders in today’s rapidly evolving workplace. Forbes recently singled out empathy as “the Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research” in 2021. Another recent Forbes article entitled The Most Important Leadership Skill For 2023 concluded that
“Successful leaders need to be able to both understand why people do what they do and use that knowledge to get people to change for good. When they do, they will see more of their results realized.”
Organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of “soft skills” like empathy and emotional intelligence when evaluating their current leaders or making hiring decisions.
One striking example attributed to an “empathy and emotional intelligence lack” was the change of Disney’s CEO described in the NYT 2023 article. This shortfall was evaluated as directly hindering his ability to effectively communicate and connect with key industry players. It’s clear that empathy is no longer just a nice-to-have; it is seen as a must-have for successful leadership.
Research supports this trend, with numerous studies showcasing the benefits of empathic communication in the workplace. As the boundaries between work and personal life blur, and stress affects both realms, leaders who can effectively support and manage their teams are increasingly in demand. Empathy not only improves relationships among team members and enhances employee mental health and satisfaction but has also been linked to enhanced leadership effectiveness.
A recent systematic review of scientific literature revealed the wide-ranging benefits of empathy in leadership.
“The research results show that empathy enhances leadership effectiveness through its extensive effects on the level of leader, followers, and organization. It contributes to raising self-awareness, developing listening and mentoring skills, and enhancing the relationships of the leader as an individual. On the followers’ level, empathy in leadership is associated with improving well-being, empowering, and providing role models in developing emotional intelligence. It enhances organizational effectiveness by inspiring diversity and inclusion, increasing employee engagement and retention, and creating a culture of responsibility, care, and innovation. “ (source)
In purpose-driven organizations, leadership imbued with empathy and humanity is highly sought after. These leaders translate the organization’s values and aspirations into tangible actions in the day-to-day operations. The good news is that empathy is a skill that can be honed and improved with practice. It enables leaders to connect more deeply with their teams, becoming not only better communicators but also delivering messages with kindness and care and feeling good about how they are influencing the people under their care.
I view empathy as a leadership superpower, magnifying a leader’s capacity to cultivate trust, exert influence, ignite inspiration, and encourage collaboration within teams. This approach aligns with elevated values that often remain abstract, resulting in a culture characterized by care and harmony.
In an ever-evolving organizational landscape, the adoption of empathy as an essential leadership skill represents a stride towards constructing workplaces that are not only more inclusive and innovative but also more prosperous. In particular, as we strive to catalyze the global ecological transformation necessary to confront our pressing challenges, it becomes imperative for leaders to refine their capacity to comprehend people’s emotions and needs and to incorporate this information in how they lead transformative change that benefits not only individuals but also the entire ecosystem.
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