What's Empathy Got to Do With It?

When it comes to standing in the shoes of another, seeing their perspective or knowing “where they’re coming from”, do you consider this one of your strengths?  Better yet, do you consider it essential to being a good leader?  Hopefully, you answered yes to both questions.

In a recent study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) included in a whitepaper entitled, Empathy in the Workplace: A Tool for Effective Leadership, they asked, “Is empathy necessary to be successful in a leader’s job?”.  They found not only that it is, but that having empathy is not the same thing as demonstrating empathy. 

Managers who show more empathy towards direct reports are viewed as better performers by their own bosses.  Yes, you got it right.  If I show more empathy toward my direct reports it can have a positive impact on how my own boss views me.  Can we teach this in an employee development program to someone who doesn’t naturally get it?

A couple of tips for including this skill as a component in your employee development programs:

  • Talk about and be an example of empathy. This won’t be a priority in your organization or perceived as an important leadership quality if it isn’t one you exhibit or note as such.  Planning and performance are vital.  No question.  Developing others is too.
  • Be a good listener.  When people feel heard, it builds respect and trust.  Ask, am I an active listener?  Do I hear the meaning behind what is being said?
  • Consider the perspective.  You might not agree with their point of view.  That’s fine.  But, if you were in their shoes, might you see it the way that they do?  Your perspective is shaped by your experiences, agenda, goals, values, etc.  The same is true for them.

Employee development programs are often about teaching “soft skills”.  Yet, research shows these skills have a direct impact on the success of your organization, it’s profitability and those who work there.  If we want to be successful leaders, we should keep these in mind.  Heck, it might even make us more pleasant to work with.