Effective Leaders Have Empathy

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”  This quote came from one of the most successful business women of the modern era–Oprah Winfrey.  It’s not hard to believe that Oprah would understand the importance of empathy in leadership.  She spent years interviewing and interacting with people on an international level, so, of course, she must know how integral empathy is in authentic and genuine human interaction.  In management, however, the existence or lack of empathy can make or break the effectiveness of an organization’s leaders.

Why is it so important for companies to have empathetic leaders?  Well, have you ever heard the saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”?  No one wants to give his/her all for a company or organization that doesn’t care about him/her.  According to a study conducted by Catalyst and published in an article on Forbes.com, empathy has some interesting effects on a workplace environment.  For example, the study found that “76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged, compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.” The study also concluded that 61% of employees felt more likely to be innovative when they had empathetic leaders (Brower).  It’s fair to conclude, based on this study, at least, that when a leader shows empathy, it directly affects that company’s profitability.  Furthermore, if you’re in a leadership position, can you really afford not to be empathetic?  Not in today’s job market, where people are resigning at alarming rates.  

If you happen to be a manager or supervisor who could improve in this area, there are a couple of things you can do to be more aware of your employees’ humanity.  First and foremost, remember that you are managing people, not robots (in most cases).  Yes, productivity is important, but productivity should never take precedence over people.  You’ll always get more out of your team if you are genuinely more concerned with their well-being than your bottom line.  Forbes.com also suggests that leaders who struggle with empathy can benefit from simply asking employees about their challenges, listening to their responses, and taking direct measures to address them (Brower).  It’s really that simple.  We are all human.  Effective leaders recognize this fact and, in turn, allow their empathy to empower those that work with them.