Empathy is often an afterthought when it comes to defining inspirational leadership. Branded a ‘soft-skill’ – despite the fact it’s universally acknowledged as an essential personality trait – the importance of empathy and perspective when it comes to leadership is broadly missed.
First, let’s define what empathy is. Then, let’s take a look at why it’s so important for our future leaders to have it.
The Three Types of Empathy1
Also known as ‘perspective-taking,’ this type of empathy is when you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see it from their point of view. It’s more about thought than it is about feeling.
Unlike cognitive, emotional empathy is when you can literally ‘feel’ the other person’s emotions as if they’re your own. It can be both good and bad and takes a degree of self-control to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Compassionate empathy is what most of us think of when we talk about empathy. It’s when we experience someone’s pain and take action to help them. It’s the most helpful type, because you’re not just understanding or feeling their pain, you’re taking sympathetic action to help ease their suffering.
Now we understand the different types of empathy, let’s take a look at how it can benefit us.
A Global Perspective
The internet connects us to the world. Borders don’t exist online. Some of us see the world through a filtered lens, while others – in the pursuit of knowledge and unforgettable experiences – travel to see it for themselves. To understand both social and global economics, having a unique perspective is imperative. We don’t know what our world is going to look like in the future, but we do know that an open mind ask questions, creates opportunity, and keeps things in perspective. Without empathy, even walking a foot in someone else’s shoes is impossible.
Great leaders all have traits in common: bravery; honesty; intelligence; the ability to work well under pressure – all important characteristics that have real value. However, the key to inspirational leadership is empathy2. It’s a trait that allows leaders to understand and share the thoughts and feelings of those around them. This emotional intelligence connects leaders to their workforce and promotes loyalty, commitment and cooperation. By 2020, 46% of the workforce will be comprised of millennials3 – those born in the era of technology. The rapid pace of globalisation, of the growing need to retain talent, and the increased use of teams means that empathy is imperative for business success. Without it, understanding and connecting to partners, end-users and colleagues will be more difficult. Having someone who takes the time to listen, understand and respond to feedback is more likely to inspire others than those who don’t.
Research suggests that those who feel like they’re a part of an organisation where they feel heard and appreciated are more likely to work harder, risk more, and look for ways they can increase their value4. Creativity can only thrive if it’s given room to grow. As a leader, giving individuals the space to think outside the box, put their time and energy into coming up with new ideas and solutions, and recognising and nurturing talent pays off in more ways than one. Perspective is key. Asking ‘why’ instead of ‘what’ requires empathy and emotional reasoning. ‘Why’ is what connects you to others, sets out your cause or belief, and cultivates relationships in both business and your private life. Empathy lets you articulate the why, not just the how or what, and why is what sells an idea or business.
Leadership is a tricky business. Even those with high empathy can run into issues when they over-emphasise and feel unable to make decisions that might prove unpopular – whether it’s the best solution or not. Whereas, those who lack empathy run the risk of losing respect and loyalty when those around them feel unheard and mistreated. Transformational leadership focuses on the morale, performance and motivation of employees. It seeks to inspire change through a purpose driven approach, eventually establishing a culture of trust and creativity. To become a transformational leader, empathy and how it’s managed is a key factor. Self-management, the ability to take the right risks, make difficult decisions, share ideas and accountability, adapt, and proactively lead a shared vision are some elements of what makes a leader truly inspirational. Without the ability to empathise, these skills are almost impossible.5
In an uncertain
climate, our future leaders need to gain perspective and cultivate empathy if
they’re to make the world a better, more understanding, globally united place.
To see how Ardmore Educational Travel can help inspire our future leaders, with emphasis on the importance of empathy and perspective visit our website here.
- Inc. 3 Types of Empathy. Source article: https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/there-are-actually-3-types-of-empathy-heres-how-they-differ-and-how-you-can-develop-them-all.html
- Fast Company.com. 5 Reasons Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill. Source article: https://www.fastcompany.com/90272895/5-reasons-empathy-is-the-most-important-leadership-skill
- Business Leader. 2020 workforce. Source article: https://www.businessleader.co.uk/2020-workforce-to-be-dominated-by-millennials/57878/
- Forbes.com. Empathy is an essential skill. Source article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/prudygourguechon/2017/12/26/empathy-is-an-essential-leadership-skill-and-theres-nothing-soft-about-it/#63e17e5d2b9d
- Investors in People. Transformational leadership. Source article: https://www.investorsinpeople.com/knowledge/transformational-leadership/