“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart.”
– Lance Secretan, author, and management consultant
When I look back at my earliest days in the workforce, I can recall managers that rarely left their offices; our only contact was through short, abrupt phone calls. Those days are long gone. The business realm keeps pace with the world at large, and the world is demanding more personal interaction, emotional intelligence, inclusion, and respect for the feelings and thoughts of others. That quality of caring is referred to as empathy, a behavior and belief that has taken a secure place in the management guidebook of smart business leaders everywhere.
What is empathy?
When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’re showing empathy. It’s the ability to understand the needs of others and be aware of their feelings and thoughts. It’s similar to sympathy but goes deeper. Sympathy is simply acknowledging the misfortunes of others.
Leaders who are empathetic have the ability to see their employees as their company’s greatest asset. They have a true sense of caring for them as individuals and treat their employees like members of their family. They also see their company’s work as a group endeavor, where all individuals are part of a team, and the leaders take responsibility for the well-being and success of the group.
Why do “feelings” matter in business?
Empathy and connection form the basis for establishing psychological safety at work. When employees feel they are safe to be themselves, they relax and are less distracted. Research has shown that creating this kind of environment positively impacts productivity, employee morale, and retention.*
According to the 2021 State of Workplace Empathy study by Businesssolver, 84 percent of CEOs believe that empathy drives better business outcomes, while 72 percent of employees believe that empathy drives employee motivation.** Demonstrating empathy in the workplace — a key part of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness — also improves human interactions in general and can lead to more effective communication and positive outcomes, in both work and home settings.***
How can employers cultivate empathy?
- Practice active listening. This means paying close attention to what an employee is saying without becoming distracted, bored, or forming counter arguments in your head.
- Be honest, not coddling. Only providing praise is not empathy. It’s about creating safety, where employees feel they can be open and not reprimanded for speaking up.
- Acknowledge and model your own fallibility. This sends a message that mistakes are a necessary and welcome part of learning.
- Model curiosity and invite input. Ask questions, create opportunities to give input, and embrace the messenger when someone has something on their mind.