Empathetic leadership

The cutthroat days of “kill or be killed” in business are over. “The hustle” is being replaced by self-care. Sales and marketing tactics have changed from “always be closing” to “always be connecting.” With the constant onslaught of information and entertainment, we don’t want to be told what to do – we want real relationships. We want empathetic leadership.   

Empathy is an essential part of many leadership styles, from democratic to affiliative, because it is what allows us to build connections and influence others. Yet until recently, it was overlooked as a soft skill rather than a necessary one. Today, many business leaders know the answer to the question, “Why is empathy important in leadership?” and have begun hiring accordingly. Here’s what they search for.

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What is empathetic leadership?

Empathetic leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on identifying with others and understanding their point of view. Empathetic leaders take a genuine interest in the people around them – what makes them tick, what inspires them and the way they feel. They want to understand why people are the way they are, and this desire helps them become great leaders who are able to connect with many types of people and adapt their style depending on who they are interacting with.  

There are downsides to empathy leadership traits. Empathetic leaders can find it difficult to confront others and to provide negative feedback. But the best empathetic leaders don’t just feel for their team members – they take action to help them grow their careers, and sometimes that means giving constructive criticism.

Why is empathy important in leadership?

Being an empathetic leader isn’t just about feelings. Practicing empathy in business has real benefits for your team, your company and your career.

Increased trust

Building trust in the workplace isn’t always easy – but when you truly understand the feelings and needs of your team, it gets easier. By letting your team know you are there for them and providing unconditional support, you’ll create an environment where they feel they can come to you with anything.

constructive behavior

Stronger teams

Empathetic leadership doesn’t just give your team faith in you, but in each other. As Tony says, “Don’t try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human.” Leading by example is a top empathy leadership trait and allows you to build strong teams.

Better decision making

Empathetic leaders are sensitive and open to the opinions, worldviews and experiences of others. They have an insatiable curiosity and know how to ask the right questions so that they are always learning new things. This allows them to better predict the outcomes of their decisions – and make tough decisions quickly and correctly.

empathetic leader influence

Increased influence

Why is empathy important in leadership? It isn’t just to benefit others. It can also benefit you personally. Empathetic leaders know how to communicate, connect and get leverage that allows them to influence others in the future. This doesn’t mean they are unethical. They just know how to fulfill others’ needs in a way that benefits everyone involved.

More promotions

It’s no surprise that empathetic leadership results in greater success at work. This leadership style is viewed positively by both bosses and employees, resulting in positive performance reviews across the board and leading to more promotions and greater fulfillment at work.

Top four empathy leadership traits

There are many dimensions to being an empathetic leader, as you must continually adapt to those around you. But empathetic leaders continually show these four traits.

1. Empathy

The number one trait of empathetic leaders is of course empathy: the ability to not only see others’ emotions, but to feel them as well. They do this by practicing deep listening, being fully present with others and learning to recognize and respond to different working styles and communication styles. As Tony says, “We are all different in the way we perceive the world. We must use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Empathetic leaders embody this ideal.

2. Compassion

What’s the difference between empathy and compassion? Empathy is your ability to feel others’ pain, but compassion is your desire to act on it and relieve their suffering. Think of empathy as a data-gathering tool, while compassion is putting what you’ve learned into practice. Empathy might allow you to learn what inspires your employees, which you can then put into practice to get them to give a killer performance.

3. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a big part of empathy, but like compassion, it is not the same thing. Emotional intelligence incorporates not only your ability to recognize others’ emotions, but to identify and control your emotions. This allows you to practice empathy and compassion without letting emotion get the better of you – a line that it is essential to draw in empathetic leadership.

4. Flexibility

Empathetic leaders are able to quickly gauge the needs and emotions of others and adapt to any situation – a skill that is especially vital to crisis leadership. Tony says, “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” The empathetic leadership style excels at this, never straying from their strong values and beliefs, yet genuinely valuing the opinions of others and incorporating them into their decisions. This allows them to build a culture of innovation and creativity, where all ideas are considered.

Ready to become a more empathetic leader?

Discovering and mastering your true self is the first step to empathetic leadership. Learn what kind of leader you are today.