Is Empathy a Leadership Strategy?

The dawn of technology has made things easy for business leaders when it comes to manage people and their work. But, has it polished empathy off the table? Business leaders are increasingly looking for mentors in their teams to boost employee morale when the hard time kicks-in, so that the culture stays when people live. Having a strong empathy strategy for 2023 is a great incentive for business leaders to centrifuge their ideas and aspirations away from routine organizational chaos and mismanagement. That’s exactly what this HRTechnology Series article is all about.

“Ideas excite me, empathy grounds and centers me.” – Satya Nadella, CEO and Chairman of Microsoft [Source]

Can You Measure Empathy?

According to psychologists, there are two types of empathy:

1) Situational

2) Dispositional

HR managers can use various tools to measure empathy.

For example, the Hogan’s cognitive empathy (EM) scale. Leaders can deploy a questionnaire that consists of 64 questions. Each questions is selected from a variety of psychological personality tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the California Personality Inventory (CPI). This scale can be very complicated but is still used extensively. Great leaders can also deploy Davis’s Inter-personal Reactivity Index (IRI) questionnaire to measure dispositional empathy.

Why You need an Empathy Strategy?

In a recent survey on how employees look at their leaders, a majority said they seek much greater emphasis on mental health benefits, flexibility, and diversity. According to SaaS platform for HR firms, Businessolver, “empathy in the workplace is once again on the decline amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation.”

Businessolver’s 2022 research also uncovered clear employee expectations for empathetic work environments that prioritize flexibility; mental health; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“While it’s discouraging to see the decline in empathy after last year’s findings, the data isn’t surprising,” said Jon Shanahan, Businessolver President and CEO.

Jon added, “As we look more closely at the data, it’s clear that the pandemic and Great Resignation have created a shift in what workplace empathy looks like to employees. Executives and leaders have hard work ahead of them to create an empathetic culture through policies and programs that reach all employees equally—whether that’s in a home office or at a corporate headquarters.”

So, what are leaders doing to build a strong empathy strategy?

Businesses in the contemporary context are driven through leadership capabilities. Leadership, on the other hand, is understood to be one of the most critical skills, for an entrepreneur as well. Far from being an aspect related to personality, leadership entails strong characters in the contemporary markets to drive outstanding business results.


Biggest Factors that Lead to Employee Attrition

But, how do we identify a leader in the organization?

In fact, many of the business experts acknowledge that leaders are often incubated. Incubation of leaders, however, remains to be a professional process and it requires development of certain personality aspects within oneself, to yield business outcomes as expected. Discussing at length with experts reveals that the concept of leadership has changed drastically during the post pandemic era. The pandemic has necessitated world class leaders to be reincarnated, and empathy remains to be the foundation.

Can Empathy Be Considered to Be a Leadership Skill?

A majority of the business leaders explain that empathy remains to be an integral part of human character, while expressions vary from one person to the other. Research studies published by renowned psychiatrists’ reveal that empathy cannot be acquired. However, greenhouse programs have been undertaken in the past, wherein emphasis has been brought upon action based learning to arouse empathy within the so called ‘professional managers’.

What Is Empathetic Leadership? Is It a Style of Leadership at All?

You call it a style or a strategy, empathetic leadership remains to be a perspective for looking at things. It helps the managers in focusing on others’ performance and putting themselves in the employees’ shoes. It is imperative that empathetic managers should be able to take a genuine interest in lifting up people irrespective of their position or performance. In fact, great leaders are reincarnated through a clear expression of empathy, and surprisingly this can drive significant business outcomes.

Can Empathy Rejuvenate Team Performance using a Leadership Strategy?

Not only individuals, an empathetic outlook can drive team performance. Division of labor in accordance to skills can be a good approach towards managing people. Business consultants’ agree that great leadership is actually about managing a medley of human skills to redefine engagement of the target audience. Empathy tops the list, as it allows the manager to think differently.

How Can Empathy Based Leadership Help in Curbing Stress Within the Team Members?

Research studies from reputed firms suggest that empathy based leadership remains to be the ‘new normal’, especially within emerging workplaces, post the outbreak of the pandemic. It has been observed that, post pandemic, stressful environments within workplaces have necessarily created a pressured outlook! Stress has affected more than our lives could accommodate, and extreme stress has obviously disrupted the work life balance…

How can empathy help?

Leaders have pointed out that simply behaving as managers would not help in bringing out the best from stressed out staffs! Creating a well-organized team, coupled with division of labor in accordance to skills available may however, work out wonders.  Therefore, how can empathetic leaders actually contribute in driving team performance? Some say, they should start sharing the workloads while effectively contributing through engaging counseling techniques to bring out the best from team members.

How Can Empathetic Managers Improve Business Outcomes?

Focus on a strong leadership strategy.

Empathy has been defined as a powerful anecdote which can help the employees to swim through! A study conducted on employees by Catalyst ( a reputed business consulting firm in New York), reveals that empathetic leadership can ignite innovation in almost 61% of the employees, while almost 13% of the employees acknowledged that, they were not at all comfortable with leaders who were not empathetic in nature. Given the above, it was also revealed that 57% of the white women in America would not prefer to leave the brand, provided they receive respect and value within the workplace.

Can empathetic leaders drive inclusivity within the workplace? Mostly yes.

Research studies suggest that empathetic leaders consider everyone to be equal and often do not take into consideration gender biases. This remains to be a positive aspect in managing, as women employees come forward to give their best. Navigating demands of work life can be done easily under the supervision of empathetic managers.  Thus, thinking out of the box remains to be a practice under such supervisory tactics.

Do Empathetic Managers Facilitate Co-operative Decision Making Within the Workspaces?

Research based data confirm that empathetic managers facilitate a co-operative organization structure. Thus, each of the staff becomes a participative team member rather than being just a subordinate. It is an HR principle that empathy fosters empathy.

Are we wired to play an empathetic role?

Psychology reveals that, we are not programmed to play an empathetic role, until and unless we have strong genetic dominance. However, group activities can initiate an approach towards empathy as we learn to accept our faults, work on our weaknesses while improving on our performance. Psychiatrists reveal that you need to have a strong emotional mind in order to be empathetic.

Leading with Empathy

Interaction and engagement remain to be your priority, if you are looking forward to a leadership career soon. Group based interactions should be fruitfully performed, while one should allow a balanced participation framework within the organizational context. Improving on the listening skills can be a priority for the manager, while engaging audiences towards wholehearted participation can be effectively rewarding!

Building up trust through actions can really make a mark in the long run. Leaders should consider empathy as an approach to win the hearts of the employees. At the end of the day, empathy can truly build up your leadership competence.

HR Technology Tools for Empathy Strategy

The market offers a wide array of HR technology tools that could align with your current empathy strategy. For example, you could invest in an employee experience management platform to understand how each employee has been performing and coordinating with the organization at various levels. Or, a people analytics tool to find out what different groups of people want from their managers, and top management.


Empathy can be the foundation of skillful leadership, as long as it is naturally practiced. Contemporary leaders should ensure such an approach is adopted, well in advance to ignite workplace performance. On the whole, a differentiated leadership outlook with empathy strategy has evolved for emerging workplaces, post pandemic wherein people are gradually shifting from an authoritative approach to a humanitarian one.

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culture managementdelegationleadership strategyOrganizational DevelopmentPerformance Management
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