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Team Effectiveness

The Role of Empathy in Leadership

The Role of Empathy in Leadership

A Vital Leadership Competency

The leadership landscape is dynamic and always changing. One leadership quality that is constant? Empathy, and the ability to implement compassion and understanding while guiding your team to success. The impacts of empathy go well beyond fostering better connections; it also drives innovation, creates more effective communication, and helps your team become more adaptable to future change. 

Defining Empathetic Leadership

In the context of leadership, empathy is the ability to actively step into the shoes of your peers, comprehend their perspective and respond with genuine interest, care and sometimes, concern. It is important to distinguish empathy from sympathy, another common word of which the definitions are often confused:

  • Sympathy is to be sorrowful for someone else's misfortune.
  • Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

The difference between these two words is subtle yet significant. Empathetic leadership is not feeling pity for your fellow peer, in fact, it even goes beyond simply understanding your employees—it is truly stepping into their mindset and approaching situations from a new angle.

Now more than ever, it is essential that employees feel seen, heard, and valued in a positive and inclusive work environment.

Why Empathy and Why Now?

It is safe to say that the last few years has been a challenge for everyone, whether that be physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially. The way we work, how we approach work, and what we expect from work (and the people we work with) has changed, often for the better.

According to a 2021 EY Empathy in Business Survey conducted by global consulting firm Ernst & Young, over “90% of US workers believe empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction and 79% agree it decreases employee turnover.” Furthermore, a significant 88% of survey participants believe that leaders who demonstrate empathy foster loyalty among employees, suggesting that empathy may be the key ingredient for retaining and attracting workers amidst the challenges in the years during and post-COVID.

Despite being named a soft skill, it is clear that empathetic leadership is not to be overlooked. It is a vital leadership competency that has a host of benefits in a professional setting.

Top Four Benefits of Empathy

  1. Fosters Connection: Empathy serves as the glue that binds leaders with their teams. By demonstrating an understanding of the challenges and triumphs faced by team members, leaders build trust. When employees feel their leaders genuinely care about their well-being, it creates a sense of belonging, contributing to higher job satisfaction and retention rates.
  2. Increases Communication: Empathetic leaders care about the emotions of their team members, allowing them to tailor their communications to the specific needs and concerns of individuals. This not only ensures that information is effectively conveyed but also minimizes misunderstandings and fosters transparency.
  3. Drives Innovation: Leaders who empathize with their team members are more likely to foster an environment where diverse perspectives are celebrated. This diversity of thought helps individuals feel empowered to contribute their unique ideas without fear of judgment.
  4. Helps Employees Adapt to Change: In a time characterized by rapid change, leaders must be adaptable. Empathy plays a crucial role in helping leaders understand the uncertainties that change may bring for their team members. By acknowledging these concerns and providing support, empathetic leaders guide their teams through transitions with resilience and cohesion.

Empathy and Psychological Safety

Empathy is closely linked to psychological safety as it sets the tone for a workplace culture characterized by trust, open communication, and a supportive environment. When individuals feel understood, respected, and valued, they are more likely to contribute openly, take risks, and collaborate effectively, fostering an atmosphere of psychological safety.

When psychological safety is high, people take more ownership for their work and use more discretionary effort, resulting in rapid learning and problem solving—all important outcomes that will drive better results in your organization.

With better psychological safety, every leader, employee, or team member can contribute, challenge, and bring the best of themselves to your organization. Psychological safety training is a proven tactic for creating engaged teams who trust one another, commit to common goals, and achieve bottom-line results. Follow the link below to explore how psychological safety can positively impact your leaders, teams, and organizations:

Learn More About FlashPoint's Psychological Safety Offerings

Kara Janssen

Kara Janssen creates engaging content that connects our clients to the FlashPoint brand and mission, helping them grow as leaders.