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  • Chase & Edler

Encouraging empathic leadership

The pandemic revealed the leadership abilities or lack thereof of many leaders. Some rose to the occasion while others struggled through the new normal. Most businesses that did well had one thing in common – empathetic leaders at the helm and steering the ship. As economies fell apart, the leaders we looked to weren’t just resilient, sharp, and skilled - they were also incredibly human.

Empathy is often considered a soft skill. The business world has always valued aggressive, no-nonsense approaches. Rarely do boardrooms consider empathy on par? While historically overlooked, empathy today is a vital leadership competency to have.

2020 was an era of change – a global health crisis with ripple effects on world economies, politics, and society. The virus may have weakened, but its effects linger. People are still facing high levels of anxiety, stress, and depression.

The pandemic highlighted the need for decisive leadership in good and bad times alike. Leaders who look beyond conventional management strategies to steer their businesses forward. Empathy has emerged as a somewhat unexpected but crucial leadership trait. Studies reveal that empathetic leaders have more engaged teams and perform better overall.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the understanding of what another person may be going through. It differs from sympathy in one crucial aspect. Sympathy comes coloured with subjective opinions and perspectives – where you may essentially feel ‘sorry’ for someone. The equation is not one of equals.

On the other hand, empathy helps you understand other people's needs, feelings, and thoughts. Empathetic leadership asks the right questions, making people feel included and acknowledged. Demonstrating empathy takes more effort and digging deeper. On the other hand, sympathy is much easier.

What does this look like in a leader?

Checking in

Empathetic leaders may regularly check in with the team to see how people are doing – not just with work tasks but overall. Speaking with team members on a personal level lifts morale and confidence. It builds a sense of belonging and can make a significant difference to a company’s bottom line.

Addressing stress or burnout

Empathetic managers can identify signs of stress or burnout in the team - acting on them before stress leads to turnovers or other challenges.

An interest in others

Leading with empathy means showing a sincere interest in the needs and aspirations of others. Every person’s needs are unique. The best managers work with each one to understand how best to align individual goals to business needs. The lines between the personal and professional grow increasingly blurry. Empathetic leaders understand that it is a part of their role to support team members when they need it most.

Purposeful interactions and performance

The most successful leaders are “people-focused” and can work seamlessly with people from varying backgrounds, cultures, teams, or departments. Research indicates that empathy in the workplace has intrinsic links to job performance. What does this mean? It means empathetic leaders are considered better performers by superiors and subordinates alike.

The ability to connect with others is a criminally underrated quality. Compassion improves human interactions both inside and outside the workplace. Without it, a company’s operations would fall apart. Leading with empathy is an example of decisiveness and transparency, minus the “aggression” that corporates once highly valued.


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