How to Cultivate Empathy in You and Your Leadership Team

What happens when leaders distance themselves from their employees or lose the ability to empathize? Discover how to install empathy in your leadership team.

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How to Cultivate Empathy in You and Your Leadership Team

Have you found that your leadership team sometimes distances itself from others? Or have managers lost the ability to relate to their staff? BusinessSolver’s 2021 “State of Workplace Empathy Executive Summary” reported that only 1 in 4 employees believe empathy is sufficient at their organization.

The report also hinted at why empathetic leadership is critical for business success. Their findings included:

  • 50% of CEOs and 72% of workers believe empathy drives employee motivation.
  • 70% of employees and 84% of CEOs believe empathy drives better business outcomes.
  • 90% of Gen Zers say they are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer.
  • 93% of employees mentioned the ability to work remotely showed an employer’s empathy.

Empathy isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s an important soft skill that is integral to success. With a bit of encouragement, you can help cultivate more empathetic leaders at your organization.

What is empathy?

Before you consider how to cultivate leadership empathy, it’s important to understand that empathy is not the same as sympathy. That’s where you remain distanced or detached from the other person’s emotions. Nor is it the same as compassion, an emotional response creating a desire to help.

In short, empathy is the ability to understand and share other people’s feelings.

Psychologists break empathy down into 3 main components:

  • Cognitive empathy: knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking
  • Emotional empathy: the ability to share the feelings of the other person and physically feel what they are feeling
  • Empathic concern: understanding the other person’s feelings and possibly taking action to help them

So, why is mastering empathy an important skill for the workplace?

Why empathetic leadership is critical for business success

Empathy is foundational for effective leadership. Understanding another person’s thoughts and feelings is a critical skill for anyone in charge of other employees.

Understanding another person’s thoughts and feelings is a critical skill for anyone in charge of other employees.

“Empathetic people are superb at recognizing and meeting the needs of clients, customers, or subordinates,” says psychologist and author Daniel Goleman. “They seem approachable, wanting to hear what people have to say.”

Chris Hutchins, vice president of data and analytics at Northwell Health, notes how, during the peak of the pandemic, their CEO walked the floors at each hospital checking in with staff. This let the team know they were being supported and heard during a difficult time. Hutchins said this was a great way to practice empathetic leadership skills and help build bonds of trust.

Consider 4 reasons why leadership empathy is critical for business success. Empathy in leadership:

Managers and department heads often have a hard time understanding the unique challenges facing each member of their team. Empathy helps you build better relationships with them and find the best solution for each problem.

Tips for cultivating an empathetic leadership team

So, how can you cultivate an empathetic leadership team in your organization? Here are the top 5 recommendations on how to show compassion while building and cultivating empathetic leaders.

Teach listening skills

There’s nothing worse than monopolizing the conversation. Or even worse, talking over employees when they are trying to speak. Encourage your leaders to practice empathetic listening skills to help them understand what the other person is saying while they are speaking. When managers focus on understanding their employees, it helps build trust with workers and increases productivity.

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Cultivate compassion

File this one under: Keep your opinion to yourself. Constructive criticism is fine, but sometimes you need to think before speaking. Compassion is an important tool to make sure your leaders don’t accidentally hurt someone’s feelings after a member of their team has shared a personal problem.

You can cultivate empathetic leaders by coaching them to withhold judgment and practice giving positive reinforcement. This is a great way you and your leadership team can help employees cope when they are going through a difficult time.

You can cultivate empathetic leaders by coaching them to withhold judgment and practice giving positive reinforcement. This is a great way you and your leadership team can help employees cope when they are going through a difficult time.

Walk in their shoes

Before reprimanding an employee whose productivity has fallen off, take a minute to experience the challenges they are facing. Mentor your managers to take time to understand another person’s point of view. Leading by empathy can help your department heads have meaningful conversations about career goals and areas for improvement with their direct reports.

Talk the talk

Center for Creative Leadership article discussed how “empathetic leadership can be learned.” However, 7 out of 10 CEOs say they face difficulty when it comes to consistently demonstrating empathy at work. Like most skills, with a bit of support and training, your leadership team can be coached to develop their empathy skills.

Look for clues

Paying attention to and interpreting body language can say more than words. According to the Forbes Coaches Council, “empathy is one of the components of emotional intelligence, and 55% of communication is body language.” Your leadership team needs to understand what an employee says may not accurately reflect how they feel.

Head nods, wringing hands, avoiding eye contact, and crossing arms are all visual clues to what’s really going on. Train your leaders  to look for non-verbal clues that can help them interpret signs of possible stress, discontentment, or burnout. Empathetic leaders who recognize these signs are better equipped to take steps to address the underlying problems.

The power of empathetic leadership

Empathy motivates employees more than fear. It also helps sharpen perceptions and intuition and informs the decision-making process. Empathetic leaders also make the most effective department heads. A more empathetic leadership team makes for a more productive, healthier company. How will you cultivate empathy in leadership at your organization today?

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