EMPATHY IS AN Essential Skill for EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP 0

EMPATHY-IS-AN-Essential-Skill-for-EFFECTIVE-LEADERSHIP
There is a greater need for empathetic leaders today than ever before. This is true not only on the international or national level but also key in the organizational context. With the lines between work and personal lives getting blurred and employee wellbeing at the forefront, empathy is an important trait that managers and leaders have to possess. They need to be empathetic, understand, and be cognizant of the feelings of their team members.

Empathy is a superpower that amplifies other skills making us more powerful to understand other people’s needs. In other words, empathy is feeling what the other person is experiencing. The article dives deep into everything empathy. What is it? Why empathy is good for leaders? How can leaders become more empathetic? And more.

There is a greater need for empathetic leaders today than ever before. This is true not only on the international or national level but also key in the organizational context. With the lines between work and personal lives getting blurred and employee wellbeing at the forefront, empathy is an important trait that managers and leaders have to possess. They need to be empathetic, understand, and be cognizant of the feelings of their team members.

Let me try to explain the meaning of empathy. The dictionary states that it is the capacity of a person to understand or feel what the other person is experiencing, from within their frame of reference. In other words, it is the capacity of a person to place oneself in the position of another. The other definitions of empathy encompass a broad range of emotional states.

Without empathy, you cannot build an effective team or mentor a new generation of leaders. You will just not be able to inspire people and your team. It is an essential capability for leaders to imbibe today.

Empathy in leadership is one of the key differentiators between effective and ineffective leaders. There is a major gap between how leaders see their own empathy levels and how the employees perceive it. Leaders may think they are being empathetic through certain actions instead of taking the steps to really understand the team’s concerns and see things from their perspective. We can all make changes to improve the skills necessary to be more effective in this area. Taking the time to listen to people is a starting point, but often people don’t feel heard until they hear their concerns expressed back to them by a leader. Empathy is one of the key leadership skills, and this skill is only developed by leaders who practice empathy regularly.

Fostering empathy also enhances managers’ performance and improves their perceived effectiveness. There is more trust and a general feeling of positivity among the employees knowing that their views and feelings matter and they are being heard. This, in turn, increases their efficiency and makes them loyal to the organization.

As aptly put by Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, “It takes strength to be an empathetic leader.” The trait of empathy is more important today than ever before and it takes courage to put the needs of others in front of our own. Great leaders like Jacinda understand that leadership is about caring for and inspiring others. They know that everyone is not the same and adapt their behaviour according to the need of the hour and situation. This can only be done through listening, understanding and connecting with people on a personal level, which takes time and commitment. It involves letting go of self-centeredness and focusing more on the feelings and emotional needs of others.

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Research shows that empathetic organizations and leaders can drive more innovation, productivity, profits, and customer loyalty. In my opinion, we should openly talk about empathy in the organizational context. Managers should be made aware that empathy matters. With the managerial skills like monitoring, planning, controlling and getting this done, understanding, caring, and developing others also have equal significance for the managers of today. Fostering empathy also enhances managers’ performance and improves their perceived effectiveness. There is more trust and a general feeling of positivity among the employees knowing that their views and feelings matter and they are being heard. This, in turn, increases their efficiency and makes them loyal to the organization.

Organizations need to especially focus on building empathy in leaders and managers who may have cross-cultural and global responsibilities. With the team members spread across geographies, it may become more challenging dealing with the varied cultural backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Thus, constant communication becomes a key factor here. The more managers communicate with diverse teams, the more they learn about the cultural nuances, which helps them in better understanding the team members. This also helps in doing away with any biases that managers may have, which is again important if empathy has to be practised in its true sense.

It should be without any bias or preconceived notions.

Leaders who practice empathy may also be able to inspire their team members to be more aware of each other’s feelings. It will help the teams to be more open in expressing their feelings and asking for support. Click To Tweet

Now, the question to ask is, how do we develop empathy? First, listen better, notice the body language and the way things are conveyed. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Imagine you are in their situation and try to think of a time when you had a similar experience. Never judge too quickly when a person tells you something. You have to understand the whole story from all aspects and recognize the emotion that the person is experiencing.

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Managers need to learn how to be effective listeners to understand others and sense what they are feeling. Good listeners convey to others that they have been heard and understood. It fosters a feeling of respect and care. Effective listening not only involves listening to the words but also hearing the actual meaning behind what is said. It is important to pay particular attention to nonverbal cues. Emotions that are expressed nonverbally may tell more than spoken words. The tone of voice, the pace of speech, facial expressions, and gestures are other important cues that help us to understand the feelings of others better.

Leaders who practice empathy may also be able to inspire their team members to be more aware of each other’s feelings. There will be more collaboration and support within the teams. It would help the teams to be more open in expressing their feelings and asking for support.

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It was heartening to see so much empathy and support being given to Naomi Osaka on her decision to pull out of the French Open and Wimbledon to focus on her mental health. This was collective empathy in action where people understand and support the feeling of someone else without any judgment or prejudices. Instances like these also encourage people to be more honest and open about their feelings.

Empathy needs to be normalised and the trait can be nurtured in children from a very young age so that they do not need to learn this skill when they grow up. Developing empathy has to be an ongoing process, which starts with children having meaningful interactions and collaborative engagements in schools and within their families. I am sure with time, we will have more leaders with a natural ability to be empathetic without having to be trained or learn about it.

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Aditya Pal Singh is the Director Head of Talent Acquisition at Informatica, India. He is a seasoned Talent Acquisition professional having a vast experience of 19 years in the field of Talent Acquisition. Prior to Informatica, he has worked with reputed organisations like- Accenture and Sasken Technologies Limited. He is an alumnus of Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies.

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