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[Infographic] Is Empathy in Leadership a Strength or a Weakness?

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There was a time not so long ago when those in leadership were expected to be authoritative, fearless, rational, restrained, and stoic. Since then, the world inside the workplace and out has evolved and with it, has the expectations of leadership.

Today, the workplace craves empathy in leadership. Employees want those leading them to be transparent, vulnerable, authentic, and collaborative. They want to be led, inspired, and motivated; not directed and monitored. In this infographic, we’ve highlighted facts and statistics from recent research studies that indicate that empathy in leadership is in fact a strength, not a weakness, and will be an essential skill for leaders to embody moving forward.

[Infographic] Is Empathy in Leadership  a Strength or a Weakness

 

The Definition of Empathy In Leadership

Empathy in leadership is when you sense the emotions of those around you, see the world through their eyes, and share their perspective. Though it does not mean you have to agree with their perspective, condone it, or feel pity for them (that would be sympathy). Empathetic leaders acknowledge the questions or concerns that are unsaid, anticipate needs, and are able to find the right words at the right time when others might struggle to do so. - Gallup

 

The Current State of Empathy in Leadership

Let’s start with the good news; the majority of respondents in recent surveys feel they work for empathetic leaders. While this indicates that were off to a good start, other statistics indicate that there is room for improvement.

72% of employees rate their organizations as empathetic, four percentage points higher than in 2020. - Businesssolver

Only 18% of people who've completed Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessment have empathy in their top five. - Gallup

More than half of team leaders do not acknowledge stress or work burnout and only 44% encourage or allow venting or talking about work frustrations. - Paychex

68% of CEOs say they fear they will be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace, up 31 points from 2020. - Businesssolver

 

What Are the Qualities of an Empathetic Leader?

In 2021, Ernst & Young (EY) conducted the “Empathy in Business” survey. In it, they asked employees, from their perspective, what are the qualities that make a leader empathetic? Here were the top five answers:

  1. Open and transparent (41%)
  2. Fair (37%)
  3. Follows through 37%)
  4. Encourages others to share their opinions (36%)
  5. Trusted to handle difficult conversations (34%)

 

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The Benefits of Empathy in Leadership

When leaders are empathetic, the employees, the company, and even the leaders themselves benefit. For starters, EY found that it leads to tangible business outcomes such as increased efficiency (87%), creativity (87%), innovation (86%), and company revenue (81%). While other benefits include:

90% of Gen Z say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. - Businesssolver

In addition to tangible business outcomes, employees report the following benefits of empathy: - EY

  • Better leadership (89%)
  • Creates loyalty (88%)
  • Inspires positive change (88%)
  • Enables trust (87%)
  • Increases productivity (85%)

Catalyst's study of empathy in the workplace found that employees with empathetic managers and senior leaders experience the following benefits: - Catalyst

  • Less COVID-19 Related Burnout
  • Better Work-Life Balance
  • Higher Engagement
  • More Innovation

 

What Does Empathy in Leadership Look Like In Practice?

At this point, the benefits of empathy in leadership are clear. So, the question on your mind now is likely, what does this look like in the midst of your day-to-day life as a leader? To give you an idea, here are a number of actions, big and small, that you can take to show empathy to everyone at work, not just your employees.

  • Check-in with them regularly
  • Ask “How are you?”
  • Express concern for their wellbeing
  • Practice active listening
  • Be flexible when it comes to working arrangements
  • Make an effort to get to know them as a person with a life outside of work
  • Offer genuine apologies
  • Express gratitude either vocally or in writing
  • Celebrate milestones and achievements, big or small
  • Ask about loved ones
  • Offer support, encouragement, and resources

 

Is Empathy a Skill That Can Be Learned?

For some leaders, empathy comes naturally. For others, it takes a bit more of a conscious effort. Not to worry though, empathy, like many other leadership skills, is one that can be learned if you’re willing to invest energy and effort into doing so. While time and experience are key, you can accelerate your learning by enrolling in a training program or enlisting the support of a professional coach.

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