man studying window outside

In a growing number of organizations, there is an uptick in the level of employee stress due to work-life imbalance, remote work, and blurred lines between people’s personal and professional lives. The pandemic certainly didn’t help matters either; a recent global study by Qualtrics revealed that 67% of people are experiencing increases in stress, while 57% have increased anxiety and 54% are emotionally exhausted.

With these statistics in mind, it’s no surprise that empathy has become one of the most critical factors in the overall effectiveness of today’s leaders. In the past, tremendous value was placed on taking decisive action and getting the job done, irrespective of the person, their uniqueness, their generation, or their experiences in life. Greater emphasis was placed on results than people. Since then, there has been a notable shift in this way of thinking and most organizations will agree that people are their greatest assets. Great people drive great results.

So, while empathy is often seen as a leadership characteristic that is nice to have, research indicates that it is actually critical to organizational success. A study of 889 employees by Catalyst found empathetic leadership positively affects the following factors:

  • Innovation—61% of employees working under empathetic leaders were more likely to report the ability to be innovative compared to only 13% of employees with less-empathetic leadership.
  • Engagement—76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.
  • Retention—57–62% of women across racial boundaries said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt that their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies.
  • Inclusivity—50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those led by less-empathetic leaders.
  • Work-Life—86% reported they are able to navigate the demands of their work and life, successfully juggling their personal, family, and work obligations. This is compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.

coworkers sitting across from each other at a table

Imagine the leadership impact you could make within your organization if you increased your commitment and capacity to lead with empathy. Here are a few simple steps to help get you started:

1. Check in with your team members on a regular basis about their personal wellness.

Don’t ignore the personal lives of your team members. Empathy is an ingredient that is essential to all positive interpersonal relationships and should be part of your daily practice. If this hasn’t been part of your leadership approach in the past, be patient as team members may be a bit cautious or reluctant to open up. As you do so, help them understand that their personal well-being is just as important as how they are performing at work.

2. Engage in active listening

Use active listening and seek to understand what your team members are experiencing. The tendency is to offer solutions, but keep in mind that one of the most important skills of empathy is simply giving people a chance to open up, share, and be heard. Think about how you come across to your team members. Do they see you as someone who is willing to listen and avoid jumping to conclusions or as a problem-solver who proposes quick solutions?

3. Be in tune with your own well-being

This is an often-overlooked aspect of empathic leadership. According to HBR, “Being kind and non-judgmental toward the self is a good practice for treating others with compassion and engaging in authentic interactions.” By acknowledging and valuing our own life experiences, we can use those to recognize and understand the feelings of others. We don’t need to have the same experiences as others to experience similar feelings.

As employees continue to juggle and navigate through the various stressors in their lives, it’s clear that people want to work for empathetic leaders now more than ever. As you strengthen your ability to lead with empathy, you will leave a lasting leadership legacy and influence others in both their personal and professional development journeys. Learn more about this important skill by registering for CMOE’s self-paced digital course on Empathic Leadership.

About the Author
Stephanie Mead
Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.

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