Empathy is the art of comprehending the needs and desires of others — appreciating different views and perspectives. Empathetic leaders are among the most successful as they understand that empathy is an essential leadership competency. The difference between empathy and sympathy is worth exploring a little to avoid giving mixed messages: sympathy are the feelings of pity and sorry for someone else’s misfortunes — in other words, joining them in their grief/problem/challenge — potentially losing objectivity. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another while remaining removed from their situation — retaining objectivity. Being empathetic doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone else all the time, it is about demonstrating a willingness to take on board the opinions of others — to hear them.
Why is empathy an essential leadership skill?
- It creates effective teamwork and communication
The backbone of the success of a team lies in how they feel about you, your approach and your vision. If they buy into all this, they will dedicate themselves to working with you to achieve the outcomes both you and they desire.
By demonstrating empathy as a leader, you are listening to your team in a way that shows you appreciate the varying perceptions of others and you’ll inspire more open communication.
- People appreciate being heard and understood
Empathy creates a feeling of mutual regard and respect when your team know they are valued and cared for. We are all in this human state together — with the richness of life’s ups and downs that could temporarily result in decreased morale, productivity and engagement. A team member who feels supported when times are tough will quickly regain their motivation. This will also have a multiplicative effect on the morale of the rest of the team.
- It promotes creativity and innovation
Successful companies are by far the most creative. Creativity has been at the forefront of human industry from the industrial revolution to the technology boom. If you fail as a leader to develop a team that doesn’t promote free thought you allow profitable ideas to pass you by. Team members thrive in an environment in which they are free to operate without unfair judgement, where they are free to contribute ideas no matter how obscure, and where failure is viewed as a learning space.
- It promotes trust
Some leaders believe in the Machiavellian doctrine, that fear is far more powerful than love. Thus, they create a chaotic and ruthless work environment. All this achieves is distance between the team and you, confusion, a decrease in communication and collaboration and a reduction in results. More desirable is an environment in which trust and open communication are central. Empathy helps to cultivate trust and positive working relationships. It results in deeper connections among team members and a stronger desire to work together to achieve successful outcomes. Projecting power and privilege will not help to create a cohesive working environment. This trust you instill in your team filters through to your customers too, creating a stronger belief in the products or services your company offers.
So, take time to understand others, remain objective by avoiding getting tangled in their weeds so that you can be your most supportive.
Tania Watson is the founder of Creative Coaching and an executive coach, organisational consultant and leadership specialist. Creative Coaching is a successful company dedicated to the development of senior leaders in organisations through one to one coaching, intact team development and group facilitation. If you or someone from your organisation would like to have a no obligation conversation about how Creative Coaching may be able to help, please email Tania directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.