When coming up with a list of key leadership skills, it's not uncommon to see phrases like "good communicator" or "strong decision-making abilities" come up. While such attributes are certainly important, another vital trait is often overlooked: empathy.
Like many words today, its true meaning has been hijacked. My company LearnLoft defines empathy in the Elevate Others Leadership Report as "how well you are able to identify with your team to understand their feeling and perspectives, in order to guide your actions."
Empathy is key to connecting with employees and earning their respect--and there are plenty of examples that prove its value.
An empathetic outlook has been found to significantly improve productivity. A comprehensive study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that empathetic interventions could dramatically increase productivity in a wide range of environments.
One aspect of the study had lifeguards read stories about how their work helps others to increase their "perceptions of social impact and social work." The study found that those who read these stories had a noteworthy increase in "job dedication and helping behavior." Similarly, university fundraiser participants were able to double how many donations they obtained when empathetic stories were shared.
Russ Ruffino, founder, and CEO of Clients on Demand, calls empathy "the key to great marketing."
As he explains, "When everything is said and done, that's what your clients want -- to be understood. They want to know you understand their problems and concerns on a deep, personal level, and that you have the answers they need. The key to creating trust is to show clients that you know exactly how they feel, and how to fix what's wrong. When you can do that, everything else is simple."
These same principles are just as important when leading your internal team. Your team will be more productive and perform better when they know you understand them versus just being another employee.
Happiness in the workplace matters -- for both you and your employees. For many, feeling appreciated or valued by their organization is key to finding purpose and satisfaction in their work. In fact, one study found that 66 percent of employees state they would leave their job if they felt unappreciated -- and for millennials and gen z, those numbers are even higher.
Empathy is one of your best avenues for showing your employees that you care about their needs and value their contributions. Gary Vaynerchuk who is mildly obsessed with kindness and empathy in the workplace said, "A lot of people think of leadership qualities as “paternal” — qualities like being aggressive or stern. I think of them as more “maternal.” I think the best managers have caring, empathetic, kind personalities."
When leaders do this they spur a release of serotonin and oxytocin in people as a result of their empathetic leadership. Not only will it help employees feel a stronger bond to the team and organization, but it will also reassure them that their contributions are valued. Happier individuals will work harder and are less likely to leave for other opportunities.
Companies rarely succeed or fail based on the efforts of an individual leader -- they require the collaborative input of several parties. Many of the most successful business leaders understand that innovative solutions often come from others in their organization. They value the input and perspective others have to offer.
Google's Project Aristotle research notably found that the most successful groups demonstrate empathy by having team members who are willing to discuss emotions utilizing nonverbal cues, while also giving each group member equal time to contribute ideas. Studies in education have similarly found that empathy is the baseline for successful collaborative efforts.
Empathy creates an environment where each team member becomes more willing to share their insights--and this is where many of the best ideas are found.
The above examples are just a small sample of how empathy can transform your office environment. By learning to better understand your staff and demonstrating that you actually care about their needs, you will cultivate stronger performance than ever before.
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the author the upcoming book Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on instagram @johngeades.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.