Empathy: The Top Leadership Skill for Today’s Work Environment

Recently, a large study ranked empathy as the most important leadership skill in the workplace. Empathy has been shown to drive positive business results and has numerous therapeutic effects on stressed employees. When leaders expressed empathy for their team, it increased a team’s innovation and engagement, improved customer service, and helped them balance their home and work life.

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson said, “Understanding empathy, as well as the experiences of people from different areas of life, is a key skill for business leaders.”

With similar conviction, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said, “Empathy makes you a better innovator. …It’s a quality my wife helped me begin to learn when our son was born with severe disabilities. It’s a quality that shapes our quest to meet unmet needs of customers. And…it helps us as a society move forward in creating new opportunities for all.”

To further document empathy’s advantages at work, the Global Empathy Index, published in the Harvard Business Review, examined data from employee’s responses to questions ranging from a CEO’s approval ranking to their own happiness level in their job. Researchers found that empathic companies are the most profitable and are associated with increased employee earnings and gratification as well as customer satisfaction.

The appeal of empathic leadership extends beyond conventional office environments. Former Navy SEAL commander Mark Divine trains athletes, SWAT teams, first responders, and aspiring SEALS to combine mental toughness with intuition and heart. Empathic leadership is not only for supersensitive types. It is also for tough people in any field.

You can become an empathic leader whether you’re a new manager, a C-suite executive, or you’re simply leading by example in any job even if you don’t manage anyone. Because the need for empathy and human connection has increased in our chaotic world, the power of everyday empathic leadership has grown.

To become a more empathetic leader, hone these key traits:

  1. Integrity. Value and model integrity, always taking the high road and consistently doing what you say you will.
  2. Connection. Take a genuine interest in team members. Relate to others in a way that enables you to understand their point of view, know how they feel, and discover what inspires them.
  3. Nurturing. Nurture team member’s talents and strengths while using appreciation and positive reinforcement to encourage excellence.

When an empathic leader, for example, sees a team member faltering, they don’t crank up the pressure to perform or use criticism to motivate. Nor do they lead with impatience, which only makes people freeze or panic. Instead, they begin with appreciation for the person’s contributions to the team. Then, in a caring tone, they address any difficulties they are encountering and explore strategies together to reach their goal.

Approaching a team member with empathy rather than provocation doesn’t make leaders pushovers, weak, or unable to set boundaries. Rather, they incorporate strength and compassion to lead.

Adapted from, “Empathy: The Top Leadership Skill for Today’s Work Environment,” by Judith Orloff