Forward-thinking leaders have long recognized the power of empathy in unlocking higher levels of success but faced with the challenges of these unprecedented times, the need for empathic leadership today is even greater.
Earlier this month, we hosted a session with empathy expert Minter Dial where he shared results of his research into how empathy boosts engagement and innovation. Using concrete examples, Minter talked about how leaders can raise their level of empathy and propagate it strategically across their company.
We opened the conversation with a definition. According to Minter, empathy is one of the most misunderstood levers of productivity. He defined empathy as “the ability to understand someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation.”
The key word here is ‘understand’. This is what differentiates empathy from its close cousins, sympathy, which is feeling sorrow or concern for others, and compassion, which is feeling the need to take action to help others. Though these are also important qualities, they are quite distinct from empathy, given neither requires the need to understand someone else’s situation well.
The first step in developing this ability to understand others better is to realize that two individuals can have a vastly different experience of the exact same event. In other words, our perception of reality is highly subjective, colored by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs which are in turn shaped by our genes, upbringing, and education. Even among close siblings who grew up in the same household, there are often clashes of views rooted in contrasting perceptions of the same events. Empathy is what helps us to bridge the gap when our impressions vary.
Increasingly empathic leadership is being seen as a key ingredient in building successful businesses. According to a 2018 study published by Businessolver, “87% of CEOs see a direct link between workplace empathy and business performance, productivity, retention and general business health.”