Finding a great leader remains a number one talent issue currently facing companies across the globe. So much so that according to a survey conducted by Deloitte University Press, it was reported that 86% of employees considered it an “urgent” or “important” need (1). Why this high demand for leaders? A leader’s attitude is contagious; it spreads throughout the business and creates a certain culture or work environment. A directive and coercive leader may achieve short-term results, but it can create a very toxic and distressing work environment, something that thriving companies are wishing to avoid.
It’s for this reason that organisations worldwide are looking for more from their leaders. A leader can be committed and motivated, but a great leader can influence others, has the ability to inspire enthusiasm in their colleagues and achieve long-term success for the company. So why is empathy an essential quality to a great leader?
Empathetic leaders are better communicators
Empathetic leaders always show a willingness to understand and appreciate their fellow employees’ point of view. Even when they do not agree with their employees’ ideas, an empathetic leader has the ability to withhold their judgment and take others’ feelings into consideration. This not only builds trust among the team, but it also creates a more collaborative workplace. Empathetic individuals also have the ability to pick up on nonverbal clues, such as facial expressions, gestures and pace of speech, meaning that they can understand and respond to their team in a supportive way.
Empathetic leaders can resolve conflict
As D. Francis noted: “Since change is not only inevitable but also often desirable, conflict is unavoidable as well.” As the first rule of business, it is apparent that not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye on every project or new hire. Empathetic leaders are often extremely observant of their surroundings, and can therefore pick up on any conflicts that may arise within their team and quickly resolve the situation. They are respected by their colleagues and have an insight on how their employees will react, which enables them to be tactful and understanding in keeping the peace.
Empathetic leaders see the bigger picture
By being able to understand their employee’s thoughts and emotions, all the while staying true to their own beliefs, empathetic leaders remain driven by the company vision.
In a study of over 15,000 leaders worldwide, empathy was determined as the number one most critical driver of employee performance (2). Why? Empathetic leaders can see the long-term goals while managing the short-term targets, and can provide a sense of clarity when a project has become extremely complex. A great leader in other words is self-aware; they realise that their emotions travel through the company and as a result, they need to be potent motivators of business success.
Empathetic leaders create a positive and productive environment
An empathetic leader is open-minded, willing to listen to new ideas and grasp the difficulties that members of their team are facing. This ability consequently strengthens relationships within the team and increases collaboration, but more importantly, it provides the foundations for each employee to succeed. An empathetic leader is not entirely focussed on their own personal ambitions, they care about the team and want its members to develop professionally. In a recent study by Businessolver, it was reported that around 31% of employees believe profit is all that matters to their organisation, and that their company does not care about its employees (3). Having a leader who can change this mindset by supporting, influencing and relating to their team in such a positive way will create a positive working environment.
Empathy is an essential component to a truly effective leadership. Being empathetic can completely transform the work environment into a more cooperative, positive and understanding workplace. In other words, having a great empathetic leader within your workforce is essential for a positive work environment and can be the glue which holds the team together.
(1) Deloitte University Press Global Human Capital Trends 2014
(2) 'What’s the Number 1 Leadership Skill for Overall Success?'
(3) 'Businessolver Data Reveals Only One-in-Four Employees View the Workplace as Empathetic'