Leaders with Empathy Will Shine in 2024 – Part One of Real Skills Series

What skills are most important to leaders and their organisations? Crystal clear vision, the ability to adapt and pivot quickly, or an ‘ice in the veins’ approach to pressure? These are all essential for success, but there’s one skill that’s quickly rising in value, and that’s empathy. Leaders who understand the experiences of their people will shine brighter than ever in 2024 and will play a key role in their organisation’s success.

The “hard” technical skills that got our organisations here today are now being overlooked for a so-called “softer” skillset. Empathy, collaboration, adaptability, communication, and emotional intelligence are no longer softer business tools and are emerging as critical skills for 2024 and beyond.

Follow our five-part blog series over the coming weeks as we reveal how these “soft skills” have become “real skills” and why they must become every leader’s priority.

We begin the journey with empathy.

A Changing Employee Mindset

The world has just been through a monumental shift, and we’re feeling the knocks in almost every aspect of our lives, especially work. Because of the pandemic, many employees have lost loved ones, suffered from severe financial stress, been part of uncomfortable company transformations, or may be experiencing burnout.

The acceleration of AI and its threat to secure employment is another recent stressor that’s impacted the psyche of employees. Many operations are already choosing tech-based initiatives over human versions and the trend is making people jittery.

Mix all of this in with the arrival of a younger workforce who’ve identified more engaging, human-centric leadership experiences as a preference to lingering traditional models, and you’ve got a very challenging landscape for employees and their leaders.

A Leadership Skill in Demand

There are promising signs ahead though. Employees who’ve raised their hands, asking to be acknowledged and understood more, have responded positively to leadership who’ve empathised and taken a genuine interest in them. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is proving to be more valuable than ever before.

At a 2017 MIT commencement address, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, urged graduates to embrace empathy at work and not avoid it. A recent survey in the US supports his words. 80% of a large group of CEOs who were interviewed recognised empathy as critical to their organisation’s success.

So why is empathy so impactful? Leaders who understand their people’s experiences, make more authentic connections with them and are in a better position to create a workplace culture of well-being. Empathetic leadership has a significant impact on productivity and profitability too. An EY US Consulting study found that 88% of employees felt empathetic leadership increased efficiency, creativity, job satisfaction and boosted revenue.

There’s So Much More to It

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman have been instrumental in studying the potential of empathy and have highlighted 3 of its expressions that may give leaders a unique advantage in the workplace.

There’s cognitive empathy, which is a simple awareness of another person’s experience. Then there’s emotional empathy, which is critical for making genuine human-to-human connections and understanding the feelings of others. And lastly, compassionate empathy where we take a step further to show care.

Brené Brown, author of Atlas of the Heart and psychology research professor, tells us that empathy is actively listening to someone else’s story and how they tell it. Knowing we may never have had the same experience is okay, it’s about them.

As leaders, we can learn to engage with others by exploring these approaches, but it’s just as important to acknowledge how we treat ourselves. Self-empathy is how we observe our own experiences, acknowledge our fallibility, and exercise self-compassion.

Coaching Develops Empathy and Increases Impact

Can empathy be taught? The simple answer is yes. It can be cultivated to a high degree through executive coaching, and that’s very promising for organisations that want to create more engaging and impactful leadership experiences.

Because empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence, leadership development initiatives are designed to have a positive impact on related areas including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and interpersonal skills. The leader learns elements of self-mastery, the key to working with others.

Developing empathy in leaders also has a positive impact on their organisations by enhancing communication, employee engagement, and team cohesion.

Empathy is at the heart of human connection, and to lead well in 2024, we’ll need to understand our people’s experiences, and their feelings, and we’ll be required to reciprocate kindly.

As a leading provider with 26 years of experience coaching leaders in blue-chip companies and government, Change Partners is perfectly positioned to help you advance.

Lindiwe Mkhondo is an International Executive Coach and Psychologist at Change Partners with 18 years of experience. Her background and expertise in assessing and fostering transformation make her a highly effective coach. She is deeply passionate about helping individuals and teams achieve their full potential. 

Contact her at lindiwemkhondo@change.co.za or on 083 200 8888 to help you take your performance to the next level.

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