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The Role of Empathy in Leadership

Updated: May 13, 2022

Leaders are always looking for that missing piece of the puzzle to make their workplace peaceful. Some might need to consider empathy.

Many business leaders neglect empathy because they perceive it as a soft skill. However, understanding how other people perceive the world allows leaders to improve their relationships with their teams and the public.

"Empathy in the workplace can also prevent problems such as harassment and exploitation, which harm employees."

Empathy Allows for Accurate Analysis

Sometimes, leaders make decisions based on what they think other people should want instead of respecting their actual wishes. If employees feel that their manager will not listen to them, they will become disengaged and withdraw from their work. Thus, a lack of empathy becomes a failure in leadership.

On the other hand, leaders who practice empathy have a better understanding of their employees’ strengths and weaknesses. They are able to meet the needs of their employees and help them achieve their best work. Practicing empathy can also help a leader develop accurate analysis in other matters, such as finances, instead of falling victim to confirmation bias.

Empathy Allows for Better Problem Management

Leaders who demonstrate a blatant lack of empathy can worsen corporate gaffes. During the BP oil spill of the last decade, CEO Tony Hayward complained that he wanted “my life back”. His statement angered the public, who thought Hayward was not empathetic to the 11 men who died in the explosion and thousands who lost their livelihoods, and fuelled the movement to boycott BP.

Mistakes will happen in business. An empathetic response will prevent the damage from worsening, especially in terms of public opinion and consumer behaviour. Empathy in the workplace can also prevent problems such as harassment and exploitation, which harm employees.

Anybody Can Practice Empathy

Some people are indeed more empathetic than others. However, empathy is similar to a muscle that anybody can strengthen. Leaders who recognise that they struggle with empathy can intentionally take time to slow down their responses in meetings to avoid making hasty, curt statements. They can also ask an accountability buddy to help them.

Empathy, as with other so-called soft skills, is irreplaceable in the workplace. Leaders who practice empathy improve their problem-solving skills and earn the respect of their employees.

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