I’ve had several conversations this week on the topic of empathy and whether or not it really is a skill that authentic leaders need to possess.
First let me say this, empathy is most definitely a skill. By definition a skill is something that we can become better at through practice (with good coaching) and repetition. A good working definition of empathy is the ability to see things from the other persons point of view. If we as leaders possess the skill of empathy we have the ability to better understand what makes our people tick. We have the opportunity to better understand what motivates our people and perhaps most important we have the ability to understand why our people react the way they do to our leadership.
Empathy allows us to adjust our behavior, strategies and tactics so that our coaching is better received, our communications are better understood, conflicts are avoided and our people excel. Empathy just may be the most effective trust building tool in the history of leadership.
Too many people believe that empathy is just that “touchy-feely stuff”, and that it has no place in leadership. Too many people feel that empathy actually weakens a leader, but nothing could be further from the truth. Leaders lead people not companies, not organizations, and not things. If you’re going to understand how to lead people you simply must possess the critical skill of empathy, we must have the ability to see things from their point of view.
Developing empathy will require an investment by you in your people. It’s not easy, it might not be the most fun, it might not be fast, and it is absolutely not just about feelings, but the rewards of understanding how your people think are immeasurable. If you are a leader that desires not simply to build more followers but to build more leaders then begin the process of developing empathy today.