There is a growing trend in most business schools where pupils are trained to lead with an iron fist. The same pattern is followed in big multinationals, banks, and manufacturing companies that put profit before everything else.
The focus is on the result which must be achieved through a blend of rationality and ruthlessness.
It is taught that your head should make all the decisions. The heart should take the back seat.
However, recent research of successful leaders shows a very different perspective – leaders should be more empathetic and compassionate rather than harsh and result oriented.
In fact, in the present uncertain times, the need for empathy and compassion has increased manifolds.
It is also true that tough and coercive leadership style does help achieve short-term objectives. However, it also creates a toxic environment with peers and subordinates.
Most people have become fed-up with constant strain and fear in their personal lives and workplace. They have had enough.
They want change, and they want it right away.
A famous blogger recently shared his thoughts. He said that people want to engage with companies on a personal level rather than just being buyers and sellers.
He further said that the world has been viewing a relentless growth in the field of science and technology. So much so that most of the latest gadgets simply fail to catch peoples’ attention.
What stands out these days is kindness, empathy, and compassion.
In simple words, empathy would mean feeling what another person is feeling.
It is close in meaning to another similar-sounding word Sympathy. However, sympathy means understanding the pain of another person, while empathy means feeling the same pain as that person.
This can be clarified through the following example: On your way to the office in the morning, you see your neighbor accidentally drop a hammer on his foot.
You do understand that it is a harrowing experience. However, when you empathize with that person, you will be feeling exactly the same pain.
Components of empathy and why it is important for leaders
In order to grasp the true meaning of this word, we must understand what constitutes empathy.
The following three elements blend together to form the emotion which is known as empathy:
- Feeling what another person is feeling
- Imagining oneself in another person’s place.
- Reading another person’s mind through his / her body language, gestures, and expressions.
The traits mentioned above are a must for today’s leaders whether they are working in an organization, running a political party, or leading a group of persons towards a pre-defined objective.
If the above-mentioned traits are absent in a leader, he will not be able to connect with his followers/subordinates on a more personal level.
Consequently, the relationship between the leader and his followers will never reach the desired level. There will always be a lack of trust between the two.
Empathy in today’s workplace
Unfortunately, as discussed above, very few companies and organizations care about empathy, sympathy, or compassion.
They are driven by numbers, profits, and bottom lines.
Managers within an organization are busy ‘managing’ rather than interacting. There is a severe decline in values within organizations. Conversations are not encouraged because they are a waste of time. And time is money.
Offices have become places devoid of their souls. There is a very little human transaction.
Why Leaders should empathize
Several modern leadership theories have suggested that having and displaying empathy is an important aspect of being a leader.
Today’s leaders must show their followers that they care about them.
Moreover, recognizing that other people are also empathetic forms the basis of emotional intelligence which is a mandatory requirement for being a great leader.
The Hottest Trend in Leadership
A widely published weekly magazine has called it the hottest trend in leadership.
It may not be an exaggeration.
Only within the United States, a sizeable number of companies are providing empathy-related training to their staff.
Another study sought to find out correlations between different skills and the level of leadership success. It revealed that listening to subordinates, and providing immediate responses was ranked the highest.
The same result will be confirmed by anyone having a Master of Social Work degree.
A leader needs to develop a connection with his followers. For an empathetic leader. it is effortless. He can also encourage teamwork and instill loyalty.
In today’s environment, empathy is a must for creating team engagement.
Studies have revealed that empathy increases job satisfaction for both the leader and the follower.
The Prevailing Trend
A recent survey revealed that fewer than 50% of employees feel that their organizations are empathetic.
Sadly, in today’s corporate culture, empathy is a trait that is seen as a weakness rather than a strength.
On the contrary, the idea of being a leader has nothing to do with being in charge. Instead, it’s about having the authority, or the ability to get things done. Leadership – in its purest form – involves empowering others.
There are only a few organizations for whom their employees and customers come first. In return, their employees also give priority to the organization.
The power of conversation
A global training conglomerate, Development Dimensions International (DDI), studied leadership traits for decades. In its opinion, the essence of great leadership comes down to the ability of the person to carry out fruitful conversations with his peers and subordinates.
DDI believed that having excellent conversational skills can affect aggregate performance in the most beneficial manner.
The Final Word
We live in strange times.
Everyone seems to be in a hurry and under immense stress. The reason for this chaos is that people have limited interactions with each other.
The same is true for workplaces, organizations, companies, and broader social settings.
Today, the world needs empathetic leaders more than ever who are able to engage people and give meaning to their work and enhance their overall well-being.