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What it means to be an empathetic leader

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Empathy, or the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts and emotions of others, has long been considered a powerful tool for leadership.

As companies continue to find any competitive advantage they can find, could the key to business success lie within leaders themselves?

While some people are born with the ability to be more empathetic than others, the good news is several pieces of research have emerged to suggest this trait can be learned.

In 2010, the Centre of Creative Leadership found when given the right support and enough time, “leaders can develop and enhance their empathy skills through coaching, training, or developmental opportunities and initiatives”.

When placed in senior positions, it is important leaders recognise the difference between “hearing” and “listening”. Anyone can do the former, but the latter requires you not only to hear what is being said, but understand the meaning behind what someone is saying.

It is believed words make up as little as 5% of communication, so pay attention when in conversation, and take into consideration the speaker’s tone, body language and expressions.

These details may give you much greater insight into their intended message, allowing you to better understand and address their needs.

In order to be more empathic, leaders also need to shed preconceived notions about people or situations.

It may be tempting to resort to time-tested beliefs or stereotypes, by but keeping an open mind, leaders are allowing themselves to see a problem from the perspective of someone else, making for a new opportunity at solving the issue at hand.

And as ironic as this is about to sound, being empathetic also means not getting too emotionally invested in something.

Leaders who are able to demonstrate empathy are those who can step back and review the situation from every possible angle, taking into account the work and challenges of the different people involved.

By not making decisions based on leaders’ own emotions, and engaging everyone involved in the thought process, the end result will be richer and more valuable for all.



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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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