Why Empathy is an Essential Leadership Skill

It’s rare that I feel I can post any expert comment on Leadership… However, at a recent Graphic Facilitation event, I saw great examples of Leadership in Action and it involved empathy.

At the heart of Human Centered Design and developing great solutions is empathy. However, the ripple effect can go way beyond that.

At a Design Sprint, I lead last month in Sydney, the leaders on the program went and connected with teams that were part of the problem they were trying to solve.

They went on site to meet them, not just connect over phone or Zoom. Instead, this face to face interaction meant they had great conversations outside of their usual environment.  The leaders walked, they looked and listened.  In walking in someone else’s shoes, they understood their issues and as you can imagine, great ideas flowed!

However, I think the real benefit, for both sides, was human interaction. The feel-good factor of face to face connection and of being heard was part of the solution. Having conversations that weren’t official meetings. Not having to rush off to your next appointment was critical to the success of the program. Not only did it rive better insights but it created better relationships and developed the human network – the glue of an organisation.

Being an empathetic leader means you are not just understanding your team member’s perspective, emotions or experiences,  you are making sure you know how they feel in ‘their’ shoes, not yours. Many people think empathy is a soft skill but I think it is one of the most important skills required by a business leader today. Some experts say it is one of 5 core skills required by a leader along with trust, critical thinking, self-awareness and discipline.

And how do leaders enable Innovation? They get out and about and practice it. They live and breathe it.

In summary – Empathy: essential for innovation and essential for leaders (whatever your level of leadership)…



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