Why Empathetic Leadership is in High Demand
One of the most commonly requested topics for speakers from our collective is “Empathy in the Workplace”. Why? The challenges of the last few years in particular have made employers and employees alike more aware of the need for empathetic leadership.
Whether it’s navigating changes to workplace norms driven by the pandemic, the realization that DEI work has not been taken seriously enough (or was not an organizational value to begin with), leaders are having to rethink how they run their organizations if they want to thrive.
Fortunately, developing emotional intelligence and empathy as a leader can go a long way. In addition to fostering healthier work cultures, research shows that empathy can have a significant impact on the bottom line. Given that we’re likely facing a slight economic downturn, if empathetic leadership yields a return on investment, it makes good business sense to dedicate resources to developing these skills.
Empathy in Leadership
Empathetic leadership is about understanding and relating to yourself, your coworkers, customers, and other stakeholders in a way that allows for effective communication and collaboration. It’s about recognizing that everyone has different opinions and needs, and respecting those differences while finding common ground.
According to a report by Businessolver®, 84% of CEOs believe empathy contributes to positive business outcomes, yet only 69% of employees say their organizations are empathetic, down from 72% in 2021.
Below are some of the critical values embodied in empathy:
- Empathy builds trust: When employees feel like they’re valued as people and employees, they are more likely to stay with the organization and give their best effort. This means lower turnover rates, less “quiet quitting,” and higher engagement levels for your organization.
- Empathy improves communication: When leaders are empathetic toward others, they communicate more clearly and effectively, and in turn, their teams can do the same thing. This leads to better teamwork across the board.
- Empathy fosters inclusivity in an organization: By being more open-minded about different backgrounds and experiences, leaders create a culture where everyone feels welcome and accepted regardless of who they are or where they come from.
In short, empathy is a critical leadership skill because it stresses the value of relationality within an organization. When employees feel heard by their leaders, and employees gain a better understanding of the pressures felt by their leaders, it fosters an environment where everyone feels valued and respected. Additionally, empathetic leadership can lead to more efficiency within your company.
Empathy and Business Results
Various studies have shown how much more effective companies are when their leaders demonstrate empathy. Recent research conducted by Catalyst found that empathy contributes to positive business outcomes in a variety of ways, including:
- Innovation: Empathy on the part of leaders was strongly associated with employees’ openness to thinking differently. 61% of employees reported being more innovative when their bosses were empathetic, compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.
- Engagement: Of the people who reported feeling empathy from their leaders, 76% described themselves as being engaged in their work. In contrast, only 32% of those who felt they received less empathy were engaged at work.
- Retention: Of the women who felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies, 57% of white women and 62% of women of color said they were unlikely to leave. In contrast, when they didn’t feel valued or respected for their life circumstances, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of color, respectively, said they were unlikely to consider leaving.
- Inclusivity: When leaders were seen as empathetic, 50% of employees considered their workplaces to be inclusive. However, only 17% of workers with less empathetic leadership felt the same way about their company culture.
- Life-work integration: People who feel their leaders are more empathetic tend to find it easier to navigate work and personal obligations. Only 60% of those who perceived their leaders to be less empathetic said they could navigate the demands of life and work, compared with 86% percent of people who felt that their leaders displayed greater levels of empathy. This means less overwhelm and burnout for everyone.
With these numbers, it’s evident that empathy can go a long way to help leaders navigate change and drive positive business outcomes. Empathy makes leaders more effective at their jobs by connecting more authentically with their employees. And when employees feel like they’re understood and heard, they are more inspired in their work.
Leading With Empathy
Now more than ever, empathy is an essential skill for any leader. And as research indicates, empathetic leadership isn’t just good for your employees’ mental health, it’s also good for business growth.
By leading with emotional intelligence and empathy, you can build trust and more thoughtful communication with employees while also creating a culture that supports innovation and growth across your organization. In short, empathy in leadership is essential for driving organizational success.
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About the author
Kelly Campbell (they/she) is the founder of Consciousness Leaders and an inspiring keynote speaker. They are a Trauma-Informed Conscious Leadership Coach to self-aware visionaries. She writes for Entrepreneur and has written for Forbes. Kelly hosts "THRIVE: Your Agency Resource", a popular podcast for creative leaders. They are the author of "Heal to Lead" (Wiley, 2024), a radical new book on transforming past trauma in order to uncover our innate leadership power.