• Blog & Podcasts

    “Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting..
     

Empathy: A leader’s superpower

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Published:

Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone.” – Brene Brown

Sadly empathy doesn’t always rank high on the list of qualities needed to be a successful leader. Yet an unwillingness to place other’s needs and interests above your own erodes trust. And we know a culture of trust is important in any successful organisation and the ability to build trust is the hallmark of an impactful leader.

What is empathy?

Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy. If you are an empathetic leader you are adept at understanding the needs of others. Empathy means you are aware of and can tap into the feelings of others. It doesn’t necessarily mean you always agree with their views, but that you demonstrate a readiness to appreciate and learn from their views. Empathy is the ability to identify with and share another person’s experiences, ideas and emotions.

Can you remember a time in your career when you had an unempathetic boss? Can you remember how it made you feel when they failed to take on board your suggestions and ideas? Or even tried to understand where you were coming from? At some point in our careers we’ve all experienced the frustration of having a manager or leader who didn’t listen to us or try to understand us.

Unempathetic leadership doesn’t set people up for success, it doesn’t promote the kind of environment where people can unleash their potential. A lack of empathy hinders team collaboration, productivity and results.

Empathy is not about being soft

A common misconception about empathy is that it makes us soft or weak. According to a Prudy Gourguechon in Forbes, ‘without empathy, you can’t build a team or nurture a new generation of leaders, you will not inspire followers or elicit loyalty.’

It is people who deliver results. For an organisation to prosper, everyone needs to know that their voice and contributions matter. People prefer leaders who listen and who are able to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, rather than a leader who perpetually imposes what they know without attempting to see things from a different perspective.

According to Patti Fletcher in Entrepreneur, ‘leaders need empathy in both the good times and the bad because it helps them understand everything there is to know about the people around them.’

Why empathy will make a leader of you

Empathy is a trait that separates ‘leaders’ from ‘bosses’ because a true leader takes the time to listen and understand others situations. A true leader can give their full attention to another person, they spend more time listening than talking. With these different perspectives they can make the solutions bigger and have those around them feel engaged in the way forward. All of which will help make the goal and the execution of it more successful. By stepping into someone else’s shoes it’s easier to identify the best strategy for setting others up for success.

A good leader makes a conscious effort to see things from other people’s perspectives, they actually want to understand where the other person is coming from, what their motivations are and the challenges they are facing, because by understanding that they are placing themselves in the best position to help this person.

Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” – Mohsin Hamid

The reason why we forget about empathy in problem solving

As leaders we are rewarded for our decision-making and judgment and that means we can get too confident in our point of view and be in too much of a rush to get on with things. Effective problem solving is about dealing with people and taking the time to figure out what is really going on. Female leaders can use empathy to detangle problems. An empathetic female leader is not simply ‘nice’, we can show our aptitude as a leader by expressing understanding and addressing and acknowledging the concerns of others without it being weak or sentimental.

Empathy builds organisational and individual success

Empathetic leaders understand the importance of connection in the workplace. They grasp the role that empathy plays in building effective relationships. This type of environment encourages people to perform better. They are not fearful of expressing themselves.

As a female leader who can harness the power of empathy, you are in an excellent position to effect positive change. Empathy builds bonds and sharpens our ‘people acumen’. It’s what sets us apart from our competitors. To boost your empathy, start with some self-reflection. Don’t overestimate the number of people who share your own beliefs and opinions, become more aware of the experiences that have shaped your biases and opinions. Be prepared to let go of some of your perspectives that might have served you well once. Just listen. Take your judgement and critics hat off. It is our job as leaders to find and develop the potential in people. We won’t ever see that potential unless we exercise our empathy.

If you’d like to know more please contact me at penny@pennydevalk.com.

If you liked this, please share:
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • “Penny for me is a stand out role model of women in leadership. She fought for my career, believed in me and showed firsthand what being a powerful woman in business can look like. For this especially I am eternally grateful.”

    Celine Floyd, Director of Leadership Assessment Capp & Co Ltd
  • “Penny was a catalyst for significant change, redefining the strategy and structure, developing the senior team to achieve their best through her coaching style and driving a more commercial approach. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with such an inspirational, innovative and insightful leader.”

    Gaynor Lewis. Head of Commercial Development. ILM
  • “Penny is without hesitation one of the best CEOs I have worked with. …She is results focussed driven and challenging combined with an engaging style, an incredible sense of warmth and a clear passion for business.”

    Sara Barrie – Sara Barrie & Associates
  • “Penny is one of the most accomplished professionals I have had the privilege of working for and with…She has a real focus on results but creates an environment/culture that allows people to be their best”

    Stephen Randall Partner Melior HR
  • “Superb at managing stakeholders, calm in a crisis and always with her sense of humour close to the surface, Penny is one of the best CEOs I’ve ever worked with and I’d have no hesitation in recommending anyone take the opportunity to work with her if they get the chance”

    Kerry Simmons Marketing Director LHH
  • “Penny was my boss and inspiration for over three years…With Penny you want to work hard and be your best. And work hard we did, but we also had a great deal of fun and satisfaction in making a difference at ILM under Penny’s leadership”

    Helen Oldfield, Sales and Marketing Director, MRS
  • “She has a strong focus on customer experience and cutting through ‘stuff’ to deliver results. I can’t think of anyone better placed to provide first class advice on business and personal growth”

    Hilary Hall, Chief Executive, National Hairdressers Federation
  • “Penny is without doubt one of the most impressive senior professionals working in the people space. Her presence, intellect and stature dictate that Penny is a leading light in her field, bringing both a commercial and deeply wise approach to business. She has other rare qualities for a senior executive, genuine charm, authenticity and humility. It is always a happy experience when one gets the chance to work with Penny and a fabulous opportunity to learn.”

    John Renz, Director at Executive Action
  • “Penny was (and remains to this day) an inspiration to me and so many others. Working with her is a highlight of my career, and one that I sincerely hope happens again!”

    Rob Sayers-Brown, Customer Relationship Manager at Eliesha Training Ltd
  • “Penny is simply outstanding in the capacity of coach and mentor. She has a warm personality which coupled with her sharp business acumen, professionalism and generosity in the way she invests in others professional growth is something which I have rarely seen in leaders who have held positions such as Penny has.”

    Caroline Mellor, Global HR Director, Transformation and Effectiveness at Dentsu Aegis Network