What’s The Most Important Leadership Skill? According to Research, It’s Empathy

Empathy may make a business more successful overall, according to researchers.

It’s no secret that work can be extremely stressful. Whether it’s the projects you’re dealing with or the people you’re interacting with, an overload of negative experiences can take a toll on your work performance, your mental health and even impact your personal life. When on the receiving end of rudeness at work, you’re less able to collaborate with others and far more likely to quit your job. For employers, this increase in turnover is not ideal, and can lead a business to deteriorate.

So what’s a solid plan of action to deal with difficult times in the workplace? As it turns out, empathy in the office can lead to greater individual and team satisfaction and protect against burnout. According to a study of 899 employees from Catalyst, having positive, empathetic leaders leads to significant improvements in the following areas:

  • Work-Life Balance: When employees saw their leaders as empathetic, 86% of people reported they were able to balance their personal, family and work obligations, compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy from leaders.
  • Inclusivity: 50% of people reported their workplace as being inclusive when leaders were perceived as empathetic, compared to only 17% with less empathetic leadership.
  • Retention: 57% of white women and 62% of women of color said they were unlikely to think about leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were valued and respected. When they didn’t feel that same value and respect, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of color said they were unlikely to consider leaving.
  • Innovation: Higher empathetic leadership accounted for 61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees reporting they were able to be innovative in the workplace.

How can leaders actually demonstrate this level of care for their peers? Managers and other high-level personnel can use both cognitive and emotional empathy to express concern for their employees. Both forms include putting yourself in another’s shoes, one via thoughts (Ex. “What would I be thinking if I were in this person’s position?”) and one via feelings (Ex. “I would feel _____ if I were in this person’s position”).

When people feel valued and cared for, they’re more likely to trust, commit and engage with their company. Expressing concern and engaging in healthy discussions can bridge the gap between people and ideas. Different points of view and newer perspectives can lead to business success, but only if people feel comfortable expressing those thoughts and opinions in the first place. By fostering empathy you’re likely to experience a happier, healthier workplace.

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