Why Empathy is THE Skill Every Leader Needs to Excel

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As the global pandemic marks its one-year anniversary, leaders recognize more than ever the value of having high emotional intelligence (EQ) skills to inspire, influence and motivate others.

LinkedIn published a study in early 2020 that indicated EQ was one of the top 5 in-demand “soft skills” that directly impacts a person’s communication skills.

While it’s important for leaders to manage their own emotions during challenging situations like a pandemic, it’s also essential that they know how to read a room and be socially aware of others they work with and what they’re feeling.

Social awareness means you’re able to recognize and understand the emotions of others. Social awareness is one of the four core EQ skill areas. Leaders who have high social awareness are able to demonstrate empathy.

Empathy is the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person. 

You show empathy if you’re able to:
•Easily pick up social cues like tiny expressions on people’s faces. You notice if there is incongruence between what people are saying and the signals sent by their body language. This attunement to social cues is critically important to truly understand your staff, co-workers, prospective clients, etc.,

•Use that data to adjust your behavior and communication because you’re paying attention to others’ emotions, and you

•Appreciate what a person is saying and why they’re saying it. You can easily step into the shoes of another person and imagine what they’re thinking and feeling, which broadens your perspective and social radar.

When you have empathy, you’re able to easily communicate you care about people. You show that you want to listen deeply to hear and understand their spoken words and their unspoken thoughts, feelings, and concerns.

You genuinely care when you ask others how they’re doing because you want to know how you can support them.

Companies need leaders who can connect with others in ways that show empathy. Global leadership development firm DDI ranks empathy as the number one leadership skill. DDI reported that leaders who master empathy perform more than 40% higher in coaching, engaging others and decision-making.

Not showing empathy can negatively impact your career, relationships and income, because without empathy, you may:
•Come across as uninterested or unable to understand others’ feelings,
•Find yourself having conflicts with others because you’re unable to understand their perspectives or concerns,

•Not be able to read people well, so you take actions that unintentionally alienate them, and

•Be viewed as indifferent or uncaring, which in turn makes others less inclined to support your goals at work, or come to you about a problem because they think, “why bother? He/she doesn’t care about me.”

Your career opportunities and income can be limited if you don’t show empathy. A study led by the Center for Creative Leadership revealed that empathy is positively related to job performance. The study found that managers who show more empathy toward direct reports were viewed as better performers by their bosses. High performers get higher salaries, bonuses and more opportunities to advance their careers.

Some people are nurtured to be more empathetic than others, but the good news is everyone can develop their ability to show empathy. Here are a few steps you can take to develop a higher level of empathy:

1. Be aware that you want to connect at a deeper level with people. Maybe you’ve gotten feedback that you could be more empathetic, or you’ve realized how important it is to your relationships. Understand your “why” for developing more empathy so you’ll do the necessary work to make it happen.

2. Think and act like someone who shows a high level of empathy. You may know some people who demonstrate empathy well. Observe them and notice how they behave. Reach out to them to find out how they developed a higher level of empathy and if they have strategies to share. Model their behavior in ways that align with your personality and style.

3. Listen more than you talk. When someone is sharing information with you, whether it’s highly emotional or not, listen more than you talk. You also want to pay attention to what’s not being said, as you look for social cues to assess if their words and nonverbal behaviors are congruent.

4. Educate yourself about EQ, particularly empathy, which is 1 of 12 EQ strengths. Read books, watch videos or take online courses that provide exercises to develop empathy. Daniel Goleman is one of the world’s top EQ experts who has authored many best-selling books, blogs, and tools to help build one’s EQ. Dr. Travis Bradberry’s book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, includes strategies for developing empathy and the other 11 EQ strengths.

5. If you work for an organization, ask the internal learning and development department to offer EQ training. There are firms that provide EQ training and even specifically empathy training to organizations. Look for interactive training where you get to practice conversations that demonstrate appropriate use of empathy.

6. Work with a coach who is certified in emotional intelligence. Working with a coach is ideal because you get specific feedback and practical strategies to help you develop empathy from someone trained to teach it. An EQ coach can lead simulations or role-plays involving situations where you practice being empathetic, and give you immediate feedback on what you’re doing well and where you can improve.

I’m certified to teach leaders how to develop empathy and all of the EQ competencies. I’ve worked with physicians, c-suite executives, high tech managers, and leaders representing all kinds of industries.

If you want to learn more about how I do that, schedule a complimentary call with me by clicking here. Together, we can figure out if I can help you or at least recommend some good next steps for you to consider.

Best Regards,


Jennell Evans, MA, CMMI
Leadership | Emotional Intelligence | Mindfulness
Advisor & Speaker

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