So far we’ve talked about five of the ten qualities of true leaders: respect, vision, optimism, technical competence and organizational awareness.
Today I’d like to write about empathy. It’s not a quality that is always associated with leadership — in fact, many of us may be more familiar with leaders (e.g., managers, organizers, and coaches) who tend to be brusque, if not cold.
But empathy is key to both cultivating followers and developing solid teams.
Here’s why: Leaders who are empathetic are able to recognize and respond intelligently to the feelings and experiences of their followers. And that means they’re more likely to make decisions that work with the followers’ needs and abilities, rather than against them.
Leaders who are empathetic are also able to secure their loyalty of their followers by being respectful and sensitive. I.e., most of us prefer to be around people who understand us and respect us — whether those are friends, family, community members, or bosses.
Leaders who aren’t empathetic, by contrast, risk appearing uncaring and cold, as well as alienating their followers. And once you alienate your followers, you risk losing talent, resource investments — even your ability to lead.
A lot of the skill of empathy has to do with the skill of listening — of being able to slow down and really look at the person with whom you’re talking and really take in what they’re saying (and, perhaps, not saying, at least verbally). Those skills will come from your own ability to slow down and tune into your feelings. That’s no small order, in terms of personal development. But it’s crucial to becoming a good leader.