Empathy: An Essential Leadership Ingredient
Empathy: An Essential Leadership Ingredient

Neuroscientists recognise Cognitive and Emotional empathy as relevant to executive effectiveness. Cognitive empathy is where you understand the other person's perspective while emotional empathy allows you to sense unspoken feelings.

Manavi Pathak

Psychology Today defines Empathy as "the experience of understanding another person's thought, feelings and conditions from his or her point of view, rather than from one's own." Simply put, 'Empathy is your pain in my heart.' Among the various forms of empathy, neuroscientists recognise two as relevant to executive effectiveness, viz. Cognitive and Emotional empathy. With Cognitive empathy, you can understand the other person's perspective, reflect on their situation, and consider the forces that may be acting upon them. Emotional empathy allows you to sense unspoken feelings. And both these forms are useful for leaders.

We are well aware that Empathy matters in a personal relationship, but how does it matter in business? You need empathy to work effectively with other people. You pick up cues on what is being felt and thought. Why is Empathy important in business? It is important since it can make a material difference in how leaders lead, thus impacting how people respond. Executives who lack empathy suffer difficult social situations at work.

Empathy as a leadership skill

Good leaders know that leadership works if you can work effectively with other people. They use Empathy as a leadership skill to build strong relationships and get others to buy into their vision. Experts point out that Empathy is an underutilised skill in leadership. Successful leaders are often portrayed as authoritarians with an unbending will, but this is a weak leadership style to adopt. A true leader needs to focus on building trust, and Empathy is an effective way to achieve this. Several leadership theories indicate that the ability to own and display empathy is an important part of leadership. It is essential for leaders to have empathy. An Empathetic leader can understand, relate to, and be sensitive towards customers, employees, as also the community. Research suggests that empathic people tend to be more generous and concerned with the welfare of others and tend to have happier relationships and greater personal well-being.


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March 2019