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The Power and Importance of Empathy As A Leader

While watching the NFL Division Championships, I saw something after the Rams vs. 49ers game that blew me away and I immediately knew would be my next blog. The picture says it all.

Most players simply meet at midfield and shake hands and give a “good game” comment. But Odell Beckham Jr saw one of the opposing players, Deebo Samuel, was distraught on the bench. OBJ made it a point to go over to Samuel and demonstrate incredible sportsmanship, and more importantly, an incredible amount of empathy.

You may be asking what this has to do with your organization. Why is empathy important and what will an improvement in this area bring to me as a leader? And what are some things you can do as a leader to build empathy into your company and team?

What Is Empathy?

Let's define empathy - empathy is being able to understand the needs of others, and that you’re aware of their feelings and how it impacts their perception of any given situation. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they see things; rather, being empathetic means that you’re willing and able to appreciate what the other person is going through.

American author and researcher, Ms. Brené Brown, has studied the importance of empathy and shares that empathy is the ability to stay out of judgement or response and simply listen. It is recognizing emotion in another person that you have previously experienced and simply communicating you recognize that emotion.

Building Empathy

This is a skill that can be developed through practicing the skill of active listening and being vulnerable enough as a leader to reflect on and possibly share feelings that at first may feel uncomfortable. While this may prove to be challenging at first, the long-term connection with your team member will be the reward. To maximize the empathy culture, you first need to understand the four areas of focus regarding Emotional Intelligence (EQ), along with your current EQ levels, and ways to improve.

Leadership training provides tools and resources to help you accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions, improve communication, and strengthen relationships in these four areas:

  • Self-Awareness – the ability to accurately recognize your emotions as they happen and understand your general tendencies for responding to different people and situations

  • Self-Management - Using awareness of your emotions to choose what you say and do to positively direct your behavior.

  • Social Awareness - recognizing and understanding the emotions and experiences of other individuals, including entire groups of people.

  • Relationship Management - your ability to use awareness of your own emotions and the emotions of others to manage interactions and relationships successfully.

Why It's Important

Empathy has always been high on the list of leadership skills but with the increased stress people are experiencing, it becomes one of the most important. It makes up a large portion of a leader’s role and is directly linked to high performance:

Want to increase employee innovation & retention? Increase EQ.

A study by Catalyst found:

Innovation. 61% of employees that reported their leaders were empathetic were more likely to report they were able to be innovative - compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.

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

Work-Life. 86% reported they can navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family, and work obligations - when they felt their leaders were more empathetic. This is compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.

One tool we use in our Leadership training that provides a great way to drive a more empathetic culture is The Mood Elevator. (Related blog: How Are You Today? No, Really, How Are you?) By being vulnerable as a leader and embracing empathy, we demonstrate to our team we are willing to be more open and understanding. While everyone may not be comfortable with these types of conversations, over time it allows the entire team to recognize the level of engagement you are willing to show to connect them in a meaningful way.

I’m not sure if Empathy was included in the Los Angeles Rams playbook but it should be included in your strategic planning.” If building the right leadership culture and sustainable growth is important to you and your organization, we can help.


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