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Is empathy a new leadership superpower? [Column] – Reading Eagle

I recently heard someone say that empathy is a new leadership superpower. This caught my attention and sent me to a quest to dig deeper into the concept of empathy, especially at work.

John A. Sekoges

Joni S. Nogle

Start with a clear understanding of empathy. What is it and what is it not?

There are three types of empathy.

  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand the perspective of others.
  • Emotional empathy is the ability to physically feel what others are feeling.
  • An empathic concern is the ability to sense what others need from you.

All three types of empathy are worth it, but numbers 1 and 3 are best suited for the workplace.

Empathy is not sympathy. I’m not sorry for the situation of others. To empathize, you need to listen compassionately. It’s not about feeling sympathy, but justifying the other person’s feelings, even if they aren’t yours.

There were times when empathy seemed inappropriate at work. It was a soft and fluffy skill that needed to be kept away in order for everyone to focus on their work.

But in today’s environment, empathy is important for any leader. After all, you can’t effectively guide someone you don’t understand. The era of control and command leadership is gone. And our journey over the last 19 months has created newer company / leader / employee relationships that we are still trying to understand.

In this evolution, it is important to recognize that empathy has a positive impact on collaboration, trust, innovation, involvement and maintenance. Everything that every leader wants.

But can too much empathy be bad? And from the boss’s point of view, is there a point of view that showing too much empathy can lead to giving in to all the demands of employees? This is a delicate give-and-take that makes some leaders uncomfortable when empathy is a topic.

The tricky question is where empathy ends and leadership decisions begin. Can they coexist well?

Here is an example. We know that the work environment has changed due to the effects of COVID. One of the biggest debates between leadership and the workforce is whether to work from home or return to the office.

There are two conflicting views. The company’s perspective is focused on returning employees to offices where culture is more influenced and collaboration is increasing.

The employee’s point of view is leaning towards working from home. Who can discuss the convenience of 30-step commuting and family lunch?

There is no definite answer as every leader is learning. Require employees to return to the office full-time does not meet their needs. Allowing employees to continue working from home 100% does not meet the needs of the organization. But decisions need to be made by leadership.

Whatever the topic, if employees want one response and leadership wants another, it’s important to open the line of communication. In Stephen Covey’s words, “first seek understanding, then understand.”

It requires slowing down, asking free-form questions, listening without judgment, and engaging in two-way dialogue. This skill is more art than science. Being a good leader does not mean that you have to give in to all the demands, but that you have to respect different opinions without agreeing.

In today’s difficult labor market, empathy is a leadership superpower that allows employees to listen. Everyone wins if all parties to the discussion are open to understanding their perspectives and needs.

Joni S. Naugle is the founder and president of Naugle Associates, LLC, Reading, working with clients on leadership, strategy and organizational effectiveness. She leads two Vistage executive peer groups, is a Positive Intelligence Coach, and is certified by Patrick Lencioni’s The Working Genius Assessment.

Is empathy a new leadership superpower? [Column] – Reading Eagle

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