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It’s time to harness the power of empathy

Glenys Barton

If you want to improve performance across your business, science prescribes this surprise superpower.

What would you consider the top skill you need as a leader? Chances are you wouldn’t pick empathy. And what does the term really mean?

Marcel Schwantes, writing for Inc.com, says the often overlooked and misunderstood skill of tapping into others’ feelings and thoughts is the essence of optimal leadership.

If you’re thinking this is airy-fairy nonsense, he offers solid scientific research to back it up. Global training giant Development Dimensions International (DDI) assessed around 15,000 leaders from 300 organisations across 20 industries and 18 countries and empathy emerged as the most critical driver of overall performance.

What is empathy?

There are several levels, some more inherent and instinctive than others:

  • Directly feeling what another person feels.
  • Imagining what it would be like to be in another person’s position.
  • Looking at the world or a situation from someone else’s viewpoint.
  • Reading other people’s body language and emotions.

Essentially, empathy is about helping others feel heard and understood. Unfortunately, the DDI study showed that only four out of ten frontline leaders are proficient in it. Empathy was shown to be in serious decline, both in existing and future leaders – partly fuelled by the trend to communicate remotely through mobile technology.

Your empathic abilities as a leader affect the way your employees perform. The good news is that this critical skill can be learned and used to promote good teamwork. Perhaps it’s time to take a crash course.