The Value of Empathetic Leadership at Work

    Gone are the days of tolerating ‘cold-hearted’ and ‘cut-throat’ leaders. Well, they should be. Leaders like Elon Musk may have brilliant minds and ideas, but the way they treat employees is not cool, not conducive to a healthy and productive environment, and their old ‘iron-fist’ style of leadership is (thankfully) fast becoming obsolete.

    We all crave a sense of belonging in our jobs, so leaders can’t starve their teams of that anymore. People want real relationships, so soft skills are the order of the day for modern leaders. Arguably the most important of those? Leading with empathy.

    What is Empathetic Leadership?

    At DX Learning, empathy is defined as meeting people where they are at, without judgment. It’s spending the time to get to know your team as individuals and what makes them fantastically unique, to reduce any assumptions that lead to prejudice.

    While sympathy is feeling bad for someone in a difficult situation, empathetic leadership allows you to truly understand what they’re going through and connect on a deeper, more human level. Then, act upon insights and help employees grow.

    “The highest form of knowledge is empathy.” - Bill Bullard

    Empathetic leaders respect others’ perspectives and needs and make decisions based on this. They take a genuine interest in how those around them feel and what inspires them, and adapt their empathetic leadership style depending on who they're engaging with, to build trust and motivate in personalized ways.

    Why is Empathy in the Workplace Important?

    Learning how to be an empathetic leader has real benefits for your team, your company, and your own career. Empathetic leadership creates a sense of belonging and worth. It builds strong bonds, respect, and trust, and stimulates growth across your organization. It’s also the core ingredient to inclusivity and psychological safety. Empathy in the workplace encourages employees to share their opinions and feedback about the company, and be honest about failures and learnings, without any fear or shame.

    Tracy Brower, PhD, summarized the findings of several studies in a Forbes article focused on why empathy is important in leadership, relaying that empathetic leadership leads to more innovation, a higher retention rate, greater inclusivity, and improved work-life balance. That’s not all:

    • 87% of CEOs agree financial performance is tied to empathy (Businessolver). 

    • 76% of people with empathetic leaders felt engaged, versus only 32% who experienced less empathy (Catalyst).

    • 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, unlike 17% of those with less empathetic leadership (Catalyst).

    • 82% of people would leave their job for a more empathetic work culture (Businessolver). 

    However, only 63% of team members feel their CEO is leading with empathy. How can you expect all leaders to lead with empathy if the big boss doesn’t?

    Leaders don’t always know what’s best – not without input from those around them. Hear and respect your talent, or they’ll be out the door, headed towards another leader who will. Managers who were rated as empathetic by subordinates were also rated as high-performing by their own boss (CCL).

    Stronger Teams

    When leaders can step into employee shoes, they gain a better understanding of how best to motivate and encourage each person. Employees whose managers understand why empathy is important, and how to be an empathetic leader demonstrate more innovation, and are less likely to burn out or leave a job (Catalyst). When you lead with empathy and demonstrate emotional intelligence and flexibility, it inspires creativity and makes it easier to spot potential problems too.

    Better Decision Making

    When you lead with empathy and are sensitive and open to the opinions and experiences of others, they become more curious. Constantly asking questions and learning new things will help them to better predict outcomes and make difficult decisions with more confidence.

    Maximizes Productivity & Encourages Innovation

    Without empathy in the workplace, you’re not going to get anyone excited about fulfilling your vision. However, almost 60% of CEOs reported struggling with being empathetic (Businessolver). Leading with empathy helps you understand what drives people and why. It gives you the information to be able to challenge, motivate and inspire your people.

    The Value of Empathetic Leadership at Work_Blog_DX Learning Solutions

    Lead with Empathy: 5 Simple Ways

    “Empathy is a muscle, so it needs to be exercized.”Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

    Empathetic leadership doesn’t require you to go and get a degree in psychology. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, you can learn how to be an empathetic leader through empathetic training in the workplace, and by simply paying attention to those around you. It requires daily commitment in the following ways:

    1. Talk About Empathy

    Explain that leadership is not just about crunching numbers and equating people to figures; that you know that understanding, caring, and developing others is just as important, if not more important. Be clear that you will be devoting time and attention to leading with empathy and helping everyone to improve their performance and effectiveness.

    2. Listen with Empathy

    Don’t be a conversational narcissist, just waiting for your turn to speak. Empathetic leaders are good listeners, trained in active listening skills, who make others feel heard, valued and respected. They give their undivided attention not just to the words said, but also to what’s expressed through non-verbal cues, and express understanding of worries and problems without casting judgement or jumping to conclusions. When you lead with empathy, you don’t need to agree; just understand, and help them to work through it and avoid similar situations in future.

    3. Be Compassionate

    Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience or suffering, but compassion is the motivation to help relieve them of that suffering. Consider compassion as applying what you've learnt, whereas empathy is a technique for obtaining information.

    4. Value Different Perspectives

    Another thing that separates empathetic leaders from the rest of the pack? A growth mindset. Making every effort to acknowledge viewpoints in the workplace that differ from your own is essential if you want to be an empathic leader. If you create a culture with aligned values around healthy communication of perspectives, you’ll be in a better position to manage conflict, address problems early on, and drive engagement and innovation.

    5. Random Acts of Kindness

    Simple acts of kindness can be emails with small gift cards, handwritten notes, celebrating birthdays and work anniversaries of others, or sending a link to an article you know will be of interest to someone. If you lead with empathy, your organization will follow your example.

    What leader doesn’t want to leave a legacy? DX Learning’s The CARE Experience® stimulates a growth mindset for inclusive and empathetic leadership. Learning how to be an empathetic leader through empathetic training in the workplace helps you create a more human workplace and be remembered as one of the greats.


    Share this article: