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Empathetic Leadership

The article emphasizes the importance of empathy in human connections and its critical role in effective leadership. By showcasing how empathetic leadership fosters trust, strong relationships, and a supportive work environment, it highlights the impact of empathy on team performance and productivity. The discussion includes the challenges of maintaining empathy in difficult leadership decisions, underscoring the balance between empathy and the need for authenticity and resilience in leaders.

Table of Contents

The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” and I was fascinated to learn that neuroscientists have found that when people are listening and empathising, the same parts of their brain light up as the person who is explaining their situation.  It is incredible that over time humans have evolved to be able to actually feel what others are experiencing and it is this capacity to empathise with one another that has played a key role in the success of our species.  We are social animals who like to work collectively and empathy enables us to build trust and bonds with each other.  It helps our “tribe” to be stronger and to survive and thrive. 

The same dynamics are played out in the workplace.  People have an innate need to belong to a group and when you are part of a team it is important to feel that you are being listened to and respected.  Otherwise those team members who think they aren’t valued and being ignored will start to feel dejected, isolated and demotivated. 

It has been proven that organisations with empathic leaders tend to be happy and productive places to work.

Empathic leaders find it easier to create

Strong Connections – By having the ability to really listen to and feel what another person is feeling enables a leader to properly connect with them.  It is a complete game changer if you can truly understand any problems or issues that a member of your team may be experiencing and be willing to work with them to solve it.

Trust – Building up good levels of trust is vital because when it grows so does a teams’ sense of belonging, motivation and commitment.   Inevitably if a team trusts their leader it creates a happy working environment that helps to encourage a high level of performance and productivity.  However, when trust is damaged it will result in poor motivation, distraction and team members leaving.

Psychological Safety – As a team it is important that everyone gets a chance to voice their thoughts and opinions.  When people feel that they are valued and will be listened to they are more likely to speak up.  This is essential as leaders rely on their team to point out risks or flag up potential opportunities.  When this fails to happen the team’s level of performance will drop.  I was interested to read about the findings from Google’s Project Aristotle which they set up to find out why some of their teams were outperforming others.  After testing a number of theories they came to the conclusion that the teams with the better performance levels were the ones that felt psychologically safe and were happy to speak up. 

Practising empathic leadership is not easy.  For instance, having built a good connection with a member of the team you may have to challenge their performance, or it may even be necessary to let them go.  Either option is hard especially when you have developed a good rapport.  However, as an empathic leader you are more likely to be able to do this in a way that lands more effectively whilst retaining and potentially increasing, that person’s trust in you.

An authentic leader requires being true to yourself and not try to be something, or someone you’re not.  It also requires honesty and resilience.  Having the capacity to empathise with teams and peers is certainly not easy and should not be taken lightly.  Empathy is an innate human capacity to build trust and create a sense of safety which ultimately helps to drive performance and improve productivity.

Contributed by:

Andrew McNeill
Author and Leadership Consultant