Berger Leadership Blog

Oct 01, 2021

A research-based guide to empathy as a leadership skill

You’ve heard it before: empathy is an important leadership skill. From a soft approach, empathy helps build authentic relationships with people, increasing innovation and retention in any organization.

On the other hand, Tracy Bower’s article on Forbes uses research to prove that a leader’s use of empathy drives significant business results, number-wise. Here are conclusions from Bower’s research-based approach to empathy:

The Effects of Stress

Data suggests that high, unique forms of stress are being created due to the pandemic changing how we live and work – affecting mental health, personal lives, and overall employee performance.

A Qualtrics global study found that 42% of people have experienced a decline in mental health since the start of the pandemic while a Carleton University found when people experience incivility at work, they tend to feel less capable of their parenting. Of note, research from the Academy of Management Journal found when people are on the receiving end of rudeness at work, their performance suffers and they are less likely to help others.

Empathy Contributes to Positive Outcomes

These numbers caused by overall employee stress can be helped through a leader’s ability to empathize with those in their organization. A new study of 889 employees by Catalyst found empathy has significant constructive effects:

Innovation. When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report their ability to be innovative—61% of employees compared to 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.

Engagement. 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with 32% who experienced less empathy.

Inclusivity. 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.

Work-Life. When people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they are able to navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family and work obligations; compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.

Leading with Empathy

According to Bower, leaders can demonstrate empathy in two ways. The first, cognitive empathy, or asking yourself “If I were in his/her/their position, what would I be thinking right now?” The second, emotional empathy, or “Being in his/her/their position would make me feel….” These techniques will help leaders step in the shoes of those in their organization.

It’s important to be kind to those in your organization. Being a leader can be stressful, but remaining empathetic and in-tune with those in your organization will help benefit you in the long run.

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