Empathetic Leadership

What is Empathetic Leadership?

4 min read
Lynsey May Sutherland
Lynsey Sutherland

A good leader needs to be a lot of things. We’re used to hearing about being focused, driven and ambitious, but have you considered the benefits of being empathic yet?

Empathetic leadership can help you guide your team to new heights and create a greater level of understanding throughout your business – and here’s how. 

Empathetic Leadership: Definition and Meaning

Empathy has long been considered a soft skill in the workplace – a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’ – but it is becoming an increasingly desirable leadership trait in today’s climate. 

An empathetic leader actively listens to their teams and tries to understand their challenges and successes on a personal and professional level. A 2020 study from BusinessSolver found that 82% of CEOs believe a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy, but putting that belief into practice can be easier said than done. 

Empathy is the ability to intuit and feel what other people are feeling. Unlike sympathy, which is a way of understanding someone’s situation from your perspective, it is about compassionately tapping into someone’s experiences. 

To be a good leader, you need to have a lot of dynamic and inspiring traits. Disruptive leadership requires a clear vision and a willingness to experiment, but empathy can be a truly valuable addition. Many people think empathy is a characteristic you are born with, but it can also be strengthened and developed. 

Why is Empathetic Leadership Important?

When you lead without empathy, you are in danger of contributing to a toxic workplace that puts too many demands on employees and leaves no space for growth or advancement. 

Poor management is one of the top reasons employees leave – and switching to a more empathetic approach can help improve retention. Also, showing empathy is one of the best ways to encourage people to express feelings of stress and reduce employee burnout. 

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How to Practice Empathetic Leadership

As we mentioned, it is possible to become a more empathetic leader, even if you don’t feel it’s one of your strongest personality traits. And if it is, there can be ways to harness your innate ability to understand people and put it to use in the workplace. Here are just a few ways to practice a more empathetic leadership style.

1. Embrace the Journey of Understanding 

At its heart, empathy is about coming to the table open and ready to start understanding more about an employee or their challenges. Let go of preconceptions. Leave behind the desire to insert your agenda in favour of hearing what is put in front of you. 

2. Get used to Active Listening

Active listening is a way of ensuring you are engaging more of what your employees are telling you. By paying close attention to verbal and non-verbal clues, you can pick up a more rounded picture of what is being communicated. Active Listening will also make the person feel they are benefitting from your full attention.

3. Work on Asking the Right Questions 

Questions not only allow you to gather more information, but they are also an indicator that you are invested in a conversation. Ask open and inviting questions. Avoid questions that have a yes/no answer, and encourage your employees to keep exploring the topic. 

4. Reserve Judgement

There are occasions when you may need to decide the things an employee shares with you. Holding back on making snap judgements is a big part of becoming a more empathetic leader.

When people can speak freely and without fear of judgement, they tend to be more open and honest. reserving judgement will help you find the real solution to challenges and problems rather than a temporary fix. 

5. Be Open to Feedback

To know that your approach is working, you need to hear from your team. You may feel that you are listening well and grasping what your employees share with you, but they may see it differently.

Be open to constructive criticism and be vulnerable and willing to change your behaviour – it’s one of the best ways to grow empathy in yourself and your team. 

6. Create Community 

Empathetic leadership has a lot to do with how you listen to and interact with your employees, but it also has the positive side effect of growing a greater sense of community. 

When people feel heard, they feel like they are part of something bigger. Another great way to foster community spirit is to choose an employee recognition platform that allows team members to reward each other. The right platform makes it possible for leaders to acknowledge employees.

This plays a dual role. It gives you and your team an easy way to show your appreciation and make it clear that you are paying attention to your team’s daily workflows. 

Why the Empathetic Leaders Are Effective

Not only are empathetic leaders better because they listen to and reflect on the challenges their teams bring them, but they are also able to enact change that gets to the heart of the matter. 

76% of employees believe an empathetic organisation inspires motivation and productivity. 83% would consider leaving their current organisation for a similar role at a more empathetic organisation.

More importantly, an empathetic leader will support employees as they grow. Find out what happens when you step back and open up the floor for honest communication. 

Empathetic Leadership: Key Takeaways

  • Empathetic leadership involves actively listening to employees, understanding their challenges and successes and showing compassion.
  • It is increasingly recognised as a crucial leadership trait, with studies linking empathy to financial performance and employee retention.
  • Practising empathetic leadership includes embracing understanding, active listening, asking open-ended questions, reserving judgment, being open to feedback, and fostering a sense of community, ultimately leading to increased motivation, productivity and employee satisfaction.

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