What is empathic leadership?
We all know that empathy is a quality that bodes well for leaders. However, its power is often underestimated.
There is a significant different between a leader that shows empathy and a leader that actually leads from empathy.
An empathic leader is someone who has a genuine interest in their team members’, their feelings, the challenges they face, what they are desiring professionally, organizational performance, and the relationship between all of these.
An empathic leader makes an effort to understand what others are going through or aiming for, and facilitates a process that leads to self-actualization and ownership.
Why is Empathic Leadership important?
Empathic leadership is a core leadership skill. And for good reason, because empathic leaders help employees to get the best out of themselves with the help of a deeper understanding of the relationship between feelings, performance and purpose. Let’s look at two examples through the eyes of an employee.
Let’s say you have something important you want to discuss with your manager at work, such as the fact that you can’t carry the workload that you currently have. You are quite dreading the conversation, because you tend to get nervous when you want to discuss things that might rock the boat…
You’re afraid that your manager might not understand where you’re coming from, since your manager works hard, makes a lot of extra hours to get the job done and is as committed as you are.
They are not necessarily the best in listening to the needs of others, has a high sense of judgement and expectations, and your manager is pretty overwhelmed themselves. How will your manager react when you admit that you need some of that workload lifted in order for you to function properly…? You’ve been stressing about this conversation for weeks, you haven’t been able to sleep well last night and you break a sweat even thinking about it…
Now, imagine wanting to discuss the same issue with a manager who is a skilled listener, someone who has your back, even if you can’t cope with everything all the time. This manager understands where you come from whenever there is something you need to get off your chest and thinks in solutions…
… which results in finding one that suits both you, your manager and your team, without you feeling guilty or coming short. Would you still be as stressed about having to have that conversation? My guess is that you would sleep just fine the night before meeting, and you feel appreciated, understood and heard afterwards.
This example is one of many that illustrates how important it is to have empathic leaders. An empathic leader doesn’t scare you, they motivate you, help you to work productively and – above all – make you feel comfortable. Also, the empathic leader promotes empathic relationships between all members of the team, making your workspace one in which you feel appreciated, working on a team effort. A leader that shows empathy to their team will create a team that shows empathy towards one another, thus leading to a more comfortable workspace where people trust one another (and will book better results, too).
The functional empathy™ scale
Since we all have different backgrounds, personality traits and (work) environments in which we (are expected to) take the lead, we each approach leadership in a different way, whether we’re empathic leaders or not. During the twenty years of my career and professional development, empathy has always been at the core of everything; as a value, a trait and an ever-developing skill.
Because my point of departure is that of empathy, I started seeing that different people show their empathy in different ways and with different approaches. This means that there are multiple types of empathy that can contribute to being an empathic leader. Types that you can learn about, adopt and use as genuine approaches in different situations and with different people.
Based on these different kinds of empathy, I have developed a new method, Functional Empathy™: an approach leaders can use to apply empathy in a functional way without depleting themselves or others.
When I speak about Functional Empathy, the first question I often get is, ‘what do you mean with functional?’. So, let us zoom in on that.
Empathy as a Spectrum
We can think of the empathy as a spectrum, a scale. Some people are naturally gifted empaths who feel and pick up everything of everyone. They are on one extreme end of the Empathic Spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum are those who might wonder what all that empathy buzzing is about and do not believe they have that natural empathy they might see in others.
Being blessed with natural empathic abilities can be a both a blessing and a curse. Being able to feel/pick up other people’s feelings and emotions and have a certain level of understanding what they are experiencing, can indeed be a wonderful gift. It can also, however, lead to continuous draining of energy, a never-ending stream of drama and unfulfilling relations and achievements. When we haven’t learned how to use our empathic gifts in a useful manner, dysfunctional empathy is often the result.
There are serious consequences of dysfunctional empathy, or a lack of empathy:
Are you a coach, manager or leader? You are invited to Follow me on instagram where i will be introducing Functional Empathy™.
What will you get out of this?
■ What Functional Empathy™ is
■ Why it matters for Leadership & Organizations
■ How it applies to both empaths and people struggling to adopt empathy into the way they work
■ Learn more about the 8 types on the Functional Empathy™ Scale
■ How to start using Functional Empathy™ in your work as a coach, manager or leader.