The ability to feel empathy toward one’s colleagues is one of the most critical leadership skills you can strive for. It boosts your employees’ ability to innovate, engage with the task at hand, balance work and life demands, and motivates them to stay with your company.
Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of others, and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. It is a soft skill that’s frequently overlooked as a performance indicator, but today’s successful leaders have to be more “people-focused” and able to work well with those from varying teams, departments, countries, cultures and backgrounds.
Many managers view expressing empathy as very challenging, fearing that they will appear weak or that they are encouraging their people to become needy and dependent. But in truth, a strong leader is an empathic one; caring about others is not a weakness, even in the workplace.
Lines between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred. Empathetic leaders understand that their team members are individuals who often face personal problems while having to maintain their professional responsibilities. They recognize that it’s part of their role to lead and support those team members when they need it most. Keeping open lines of communication and encouraging transparency is a good way to foster psychological safety and help your team members feel comfortable sharing when it’s necessary.
To start showing empathy, remember to listen, ask questions and signal that show you’ve understood the messages. This will strengthen your empathy “muscle” through training and experience. You might also try to find someone who is known for their empathy. Observe and ask questions to improve.
When managers develop their empathetic leadership skills, they improve their effectiveness and increase their chances of success in the job. Empathetic leaders are assets to organizations, in part because they are able to effectively build and maintain relationships and retain talent — a critical part of leading organizations today.