Empathy In Leadership

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard… …the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.

Peter F. Drucker

How do leaders build others’ personalities beyond their normal limitations? And equally important, how do leaders raise their own vision and performance beyond the limits of their own personality styles?

There are of course many valid answers to this question, but it could be suggested that all these answers should describe a mutually transforming relationship between leader and those being lead. Without a mutually ‘affecting’ relationship, where leaders are also lifted beyond the limitations of their performance and personalities, leadership is nothing more than a form of control or dictatorship. We have clearly seen in recent history across the globe that this style of leadership doesn’t work.

Mutually transformative leadership relationships are profoundly different from leadership that encourages people to “adjust” or “modify” behaviours to better suit the leader’s agenda and vision. At the basis of the latter form of leadership style is a basic lack of empathy.

Empathy in leadership is the capacity to be movedinfluenced and developed by other people’s experiences, perspectives and difficulties. It implies a kind of vulnerability and openness to others, which requires great strength and trust. Without this capacity leaders run the risk of reducing themselves to power mongers who are disconnected from the needs, interests and (importantly) the sources of motivation of their followers. When leaders are not empathically aware of what drives and motivates the behaviour and performance of their employees, they are not able to channel and stimulate untapped potential or address performance barriers at a deep motivational level.

Ultimately they lose touch with their followers and thereby lose their ability to influence them.

Furthermore, human beings do not trust those who do not have their best interests at heart. Empathy in leadership results in relationships where leaders truly understand their followers, and show concern for their welfare and development. This quickly establishes high degrees of engagement and cooperation in others. Empathic leaders, because they are open to be influenced by others’ experiences and views, are also in aflow of constant development and change that keeps them relevant and engaged.

Four Steps Towards Empathy In Leadership

Although empathy in leadership is a way of being and an ethical position rather than a technique or strategy, there are a few things leaders can do to develop their empathy in leadership competencies. Four of these are listed below:

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