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Are you a leader who leads with empathy? This is a question I frequently ask business leaders. The responses are always fascinating. Some people are proud of their ability to lead with empathy. Others, sadly, think that leading with empathy is a bad idea. Empathy is a word frequently misunderstood. Some people mistake it for sympathy. Others believe it is a trait more common in females than in males. There are also “alpha” males and females who regard empathy as a weakness. What exactly is empathy?

Empathy, in my opinion, is the desire to understand others from their perspective and be sensitive to their feelings. This means that we take time to listen to others and show some compassion. Many of us view empathy as putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feeling what they are going through. If the shoe pinches, we feel the pinch as well. Empathy is regarded as an important aspect of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, an expert on emotional intelligence, describes empathy as the ability to understand the emotions of others. He goes on to state that, at a deeper level, empathy is about recognizing, understanding, and reacting to others’ needs. Empathy, according to Goleman and Paul Ekman, has three dimensions: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. Cognitive is linked to understanding, emotional to feelings and compassionate to acts of kindness. Are these skills required of business leaders?

People are at the heart of leadership. Effective leadership entails positively influencing others to work toward a common goal. To achieve business objectives, leaders work with and through people. Business leaders can make decisions and take actions that bring forth the best in others by being more understanding, imagining themselves in others’ positions, and being compassionate. In my experience, business leaders that lead with empathy are more successful in fostering a healthy work environment. Individuals and teams are more likely to reach their full potential in such a workplace.

Empathy-based leadership encompasses a wide range of principles. It entails establishing clear objectives, communicating effectively, and involving others. It also entails supporting employees to perform their work well and rewarding their accomplishments. Empathetic leadership boosts employee morale and motivates them to do be and do their best, resulting in improved business results. Why, is there still a lack of empathy, despite its power to bring out the best in others?

Many business leaders overlook empathy. Others regard it as a non-essential soft skill that has no bearing on the performance. Many business leaders are overly concerned with the financial side of their business. This causes them to lose sight of the crucial role that people play in their businesses’ financial health. Some leaders overlook the revenue-generating salespeople, the expense-tracking operations staff, and the departments that support them. I feel that business leaders need to be more aware of empathy to succeed in today’s complex work environments. Business leaders must take the time to get to know the people they lead, be truly interested in them as people first, treat them with respect, and be ready and prepared to help them achieve their goals. I believe that more business leaders should try leading with empathy. The advantages of having more empathy at the workplace are numerous. Empathy must begin with leadership!

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via Twitter @KiruthuLucy

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