Empathy an important leadership trait. It is a critical emotional intelligence competency. Emotional intelligence is being aware of and able to manage your emotions, and the emotions of others, to achieve a desired outcome. Empathy is necessary to be aware of others’ emotions and their source, so you can adjust your communication and approach accordingly. Many people are aware of their own emotions, but fail to consider what it’s like for the other party.
Numerous studies have found the most successful leaders have higher emotional intelligence. There are various assessments of EI and many companies and leadership coaching firms have their preferred tool. Daniel Goleman wrote the seminal book on the topic, but there are numerous options on Amazon. We recommend “The EQ Edge” to our clients for practical tips. (No financial incentive or any relationship between my firm and theirs)
Here’s some examples of a leader not being empathetic:
Corporate Finance VP is putting together a cross-functional, cross-subsidiaries team to re-engineer the way financial operations is handled across the company. In staffing the team, “Joe” is recommended as a subject matter expert who should be included on the team. The VP refuses to include Joe because he had underperformed on an assignment years ago. Since that time, Joe has gone on to make many valuable contributions, which was why those already on the team recommended he be included.
The VP didn’t put themselves in Joe’s shoes and recognize that anyone can have an “off” day or a project that doesn’t get their best work. He certainly didn’t show empathy to Joe and wasn’t willing to give him another chance, even though being on this team would contribute greatly to Joe’s development and future career path in the company.
Those already on this team can be demoralized, and became afraid of making any suggestions or mistakes, since they assume there’s no forgiveness. They can be afraid the rest of their careers could be jeopardized if they did anything that this VP didn’t like.
VP Quality of a manufacturing facility is often pestered by operations and sales staff who want him to make an exception on some standard or another so they can get the product out more quickly. The VP has been saying no and explaining the rules and their rationale so many times he begins to feel his authority and experience are being questioned. Eventually, he stops explaining and just says “no”.
The other areas feel he is a dictator and authoritarian, and do all in their power to work around him and not ask him questions. In actuality, the VP didn’t display empathy. If he’d put himself in their shoes, he’d remember they were all on the same side. All parties want to protect the brand and get the product out the door to satisfy customers. When the VP stops to consider the impact of his reply, he begins to explain again but, more importantly, help the other areas find solutions that maintained quality standards while expediting production too.
In both of these cases, a little empathy goes a long way to success.