Why Empathy Matters For Leaders

Do you consider yourself an empathetic leader? Empathy isn't sympathy or feeling sorry for others—it is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes. While many professionals view empathy as a soft skill that's nice to have, empathy is a necessary skill for successful leaders to master.

Author and former FBI agent LaRae Quy has outlined why empathy is essential to leadership. We explore her thoughts in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

Empathy paves the way of the future. As organizations become more global, transparent and connected, leaders will need to develop new skills to manage a more complex workforce, Quy says. Successful leaders will need to understand the human element in greater detail. They'll need to develop old-fashioned empathy to satisfy their future stakeholders. You can make it work for you by examining your own attitude when dealing with others. Is your primary concern to win, get your own way or always be right? Put aside your viewpoint and try to see things from the other person's point of view. Maybe you aren't the center of the world after all.

Empathy provides feedback on your communication style. Many people can throw loads of information to an audience, but a successful leader must understand how to get through to them. When we increase our communication skills, we learn how to reach employees and customers with a message that is both specific and intentional. Quy encourages leaders to listen to people rather than talk. Maintain eye contact, nod and keep your mouth shut. It takes practice to be a good listener because you will need to keep your mind focused on what the other person is saying. Push aside thoughts that want to intrude, even if they're important. Focus on what the person has said, and then dig through that to get to the deeper truth.

Empathy builds social skills. Quy asserts that organizations can no longer get away with simply providing goods or services. They are also expected to deliver their message with honesty and compassion -- in other words, empathy. Encourage your team to slow down and take a moment to be empathic. For example, if a colleague makes an unconventional suggestion, have your team member follow up with an empathic comment like, "I can see why you think that, but it doesn't follow our guidelines." The point is to encourage people to make a 60-second investment of time with the other person to affirm they heard their suggestion, gave it some thought and chose a different direction.

Empathy makes conflicts easier to handle. Empathy understands and identifies with the emotions of another, even if it doesn't agree. When you perceive what the other person wants and needs, Quy says it gives you a step up on how to reach a win-win solution. If you don't try to place yourself in their situation, it's easy to misread their signals. Instead, you react and think as you would, not them. Look at empathy as a data-gathering tool that helps you understand your environment. Whether it's business or life, it will help you scan large amounts of information about people and sort out what is essential from what is noise. Empathy is crucial in negotiations and conflicts. It allows you to understand the other person's needs and what risks they're willing, or not willing, to take before they'll move on.

Instead of considering empathy as a skill you'd one day like to refine, get serious about becoming a more empathetic leader. It's a first step at making a lasting impact on your team.
Source: LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She is the author of Secrets of a Strong Mind and Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.

filed under September 2019
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