Research on the relationship between leadership and organizational success demonstrated that the capacity of a leader to be empathetic and compassionate has the highest influence on organizational profitability and productivity.
How does empathy relate to your ability to lead? What can you do to improve your leadership skills? In this post, we will define empathy and empathetic leadership, as well as provide advice on how to enhance this skill.
What is empathy?
The term empathy was first introduced in 1909 by psychologist Edward B. Titchener as a translation of the German term einfühlung (meaning “feeling into”).
Empathy is the ability to emotionally comprehend what other people are going through, to see things through their eyes, and to imagine yourself being in the same situation. Essentially, it is placing oneself in the shoes of another person and experiencing what they are experiencing.
So, for example, when you witness someone being sad over the passing of an elderly family member, you may be able to recall how you yourself felt in that same situation.
What is empathetic leadership?
Let’s imagine a scenario in which Suzanne, a sales manager, wants to honor Joe, one of her salespeople, for being this month’s top seller. So she decides to take the whole sales team out for drinks in Joe’s honor. The sales team has a great time but Joe sits at the bar the entire time drinking water and looking at his phone. Why? Because Joe doesn’t drink and is a committed family man. This was clearly the wrong way to honor him. Suzanne notices this and feels terrible about it.
A few months later, Joe has another banner sales month and Suzanne wants to celebrate his achievements. Only this time, she invites his wife and kids to the office for an ice cream party. Joe is thrilled.
What can we learn from this narrative? At first it appears that Suzanne is not an empathetic leader. She didn’t take the time to learn about Joe before she made a decision that affected him. However, in reality this was an understandable mistake. Leaders often don’t know details about their team members’ private lives because not everyone wants to share such things with their colleagues. The important thing is that Suzanne paid attention to the fact that Joe didn’t have a good time at the cocktail party, learned the reasons why, and then applied those learnings to future situations. In that sense, Suzanne can be described as an empathetic leader.
Empathetic leadership is the capacity to lead while being aware of others’ thoughts and feelings, as well as their circumstances, experiences, and needs. It’s the ability to live and feel someone else’s narrative as if it were our own. The story that is playing in our heads is frequently different from the story that is playing in the heads of others.
Understanding someone else’s point of view doesn’t mean you agree with it. But it does indicate that you are willing to comprehend and appreciate it.
Leadership is basically about influencing followers to inspire them to achieve a common goal. Empathy is at the heart of it. Here are five reasons why empathy is regarded as one of the most important qualities in a leader:
- Empathy establishes connections. You form a strong relationship with others when you care about them. You’ll be able to interact with them and have a deeper understanding of their hobbies and opinions. It builds trust in these relationships. Let’s imagine your team’s potential after all personal barriers have been removed.
- Empathy brings insight. It’s critical to remember that the tale we tell ourselves differs from the story that others tell themselves. You can only begin to grasp these distinctions by paying attention to others. Listening allows you to learn, and learning allows you to develop understanding. Each individual has a backstory, a reason for being the way they are. Empathy helps you to consider your options before passing judgment or making assumptions.
- Empathy instills confidence in employees. An active listener is an empathetic leader. Employees will be more confident in their decisions if they see you as an empathetic leader, and they will not be scared to speak opinions that differ from yours. That’s not to mean they ignore the leader’s job or make decisions outside of their authority.
- Understanding is based on empathy. It’s not always simple to comprehend why someone feels or thinks the way they do. People frequently react in unexpected ways, leaving you unsure of how to respond. However, if empathy is part of your leadership arsenal, you won’t have to worry about how to reply since the aim is to listen rather than to respond, and to understand rather than to give critique. Empathy enables you to comprehend people without passing judgment or forming assumptions.
- Empathy develops social skills. Empathy requires time and effort to exhibit; it takes time and effort to demonstrate awareness and understanding. When it comes to team building and earning trust, you must show that you care about people. You must demonstrate your attention by inquiring about their difficulties, family, and goals. When you do so, you develop empathy and improve your social skills.
Are empathetic leaders born or made?
Similar to the argument over whether leadership skills are innate or learnable. This question has been studied by researchers all around the world. One famous debate at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in 2016 took two groups from the Academic Fellows Program and had them argue over which side had the most evidence in their favor. The two groups concluded that the answer likely involved some element of both nature and nurture.
A 2018 study found genetics do play a role in empathy, however only to a small degree. Only 10% of the variance in emotional levels can be explained by biology alone. Consequently, the remaining 90% can be learned.
The same study found that empathy is frequently acquired at a young age when parents and other adults model it. Therefore, leaders who grew up around empathetic adults have a head start on leaders who did not have such a home environment. But it’s never too late to learn to be a more empathetic leader.
How to improve your empathy?
Here are some things you can do as a leader to improve your empathy.
- Listen to your team members. You will progressively comprehend your employees’ points of view if you strive to carefully listen to their thoughts and comments. It is critical to improve your emotional connection to practice listening to your team and viewing things from their perspective.
- Get to know your team members. The more personally acquainted and comprehended you are with your staff, the more emotionally committed you will be to them. You’ll get to know their family, and they’ll become genuine individuals that live outside of the office for you. This will take your understanding of them to another level.
- Consider other perspectives. When you’re willing to look at things from many perspectives, you’re practicing healthy emotions. Carefully think through the many angles of an argument before giving an opinion. This helps you to have more data and come up with the best solution.
Empathy is a critical component of leadership. It has an impact on every element of a leader. While empathy is genetically determined, it is absolutely possible to practice improving it. CodeStringers hope this article has helped you take a more concrete look at empathy, which can improve your leadership and deliver positive outcomes to your organization.