The most successful leaders have always recognized the importance of empathy; however, this soft skill has become even more of a priority in recent years. As businesses have seen how empathy in leadership can lead to improved results, empathy in the workplace has taken on a new meaning.
New research has shown that demonstrating empathy can positively impact various aspects of a company’s operations, such as retention and innovation. Great leadership is like a recipe that requires a combination of different skills to encourage engagement, satisfaction, and high-level performance. Empathy is often one of the ingredients that get overlooked even though it’s a major factor in fostering the right conditions for teams to perform at their best.
The pandemic ushered in an awakening in the business sector. Mental health took center stage as people dealt with lockdowns, loss of loved ones, and the stress of uncertainty that COVID-19 brought on. Most people felt increased stress levels and experienced various challenges when it came to juggling their responsibilities.
Organizations that have made a point to meet their employees’ needs have reported higher retention rates and improved customer experiences, among other positive outcomes.
Empathy is a major contribution to those positive outcomes. When leaders are empathetic, it allows people to better cope with their stress and anxiety and helps them find happiness at work. A study conducted by Catalyst reported that of 889 employees, most found that being able to share their feelings with others (empathy!)has positively affected their performance.
So how can leaders demonstrate empathy?
Exhibiting empathy can be done in two different ways. First, leaders can consider another person’s thoughts using cognitive empathy, which involves asking themselves what would they be thinking if they were in that position. Leaders can also practice emotional empathy, which involves asking themselves what they would feel if they were in that person’s position. The most successful leaders are those who listen to their employees’ thoughts and concerns, inquire about what’s working and what’s not, and then make actionable plans to move towards solutions.
Rather than being experts in mental health, leaders simply have to be able to demonstrate their care and attentiveness. This is done by checking in with their staff members, asking questions, and taking cues from their teams on how much they want to share. Every leader should be knowledgeable about the mental health resources their company offers.
Effective leadership is having the right alignment between what’s being said and what’s actually being accomplished. Transparency and understanding from management help people feel engaged and committed to their work. Having the right understanding of another person’s situation can help leaders make more informed decisions.
Exhibiting empathy in action involves being able to offer help to an employee who’s struggling. It involves being able to engage in healthy discussions to build better solutions. This process can help build stronger teams and empower individuals.
Although it’s not a new skill, the importance of empathy has increased due to the new research. Clearly, those in leadership roles must harness the ability to demonstrate this competency to maintain healthy work environments, which in turn leads to successful businesses.