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What Role Does Empathy Play in Leadership?

  • Written by Business Daily Media

Unscrupulous and mean people exist all over the world. We all know what it’s like to have a bad boss, someone who just seems to never get it. We communicate, we work, we struggle, and yet we just get constantly met with resistance, and in extreme cases even abuse and bullying. Not just that but the recent rise in workers enforcing their rights and fighting for better work-life balance just isn’t being met with the level of progress that we would like.

The unfortunate fact is that some people just want to remain stuck in the past. The days when it was okay to be a “boss” are far behind us, and now workers are forcing bosses into the present, and demanding leaders. Leadership, as a skill, has one impacting difference from being a boss. Simply put, the difference is empathy.

Empathy And The Rodents

There was an experiment where rats demonstrated significant empathic ability. The rats fed and worked hard trying to free other rats that were trapped in an uncomfortable cage. 

Empathy is the ability to grasp a person’s feelings. To register their emotions within your cognizance and to truly understand and share their position. In leadership, this means that a leader doesn’t just demand productivity, but rather considers their workers’ emotional and mental needs and does what is necessary to meet those needs.

This means that rats, with their extremely tiny brains, have more capacity for empathy and kindness than some people you’ve likely worked with. For employees, this means that empathy is a quality that you have the right to expect from your employers. For employers, this means that if you lack empathy, you have less cognisant ability than a rodent.

“Pain in the Economy”

Last week, one of the most wealthy people in Australia decided to throw his hand into a discussion he had no right to include himself in. CEO of property development company Gurner Group, Tim Gurner, publicly announced that employees (specifically tradesmen) were entitled and too expectant of their employers. He went as far as to say that unemployment should “increase by 40%-50%”

Despite subsequent apologies, this kind of statement is illustrative of the kind of soulless work culture that the working class is currently fighting against. 

So, if Tim Gurner is a prime example of sub-rat behaviour, then what should people aspire to in order to be a leader?

Hell of a Leader

We’ve thrown around the words “leader” and “boss” a fair amount, but it’s necessary to illustrate the point. A boss merely demands that people do things. They don’t consider the fallout that certain tasks may have on their employee’s mental well-being, or even if their employees are in a position within their job to complete that task. A boss can be abusive, maybe even a bully. They don’t care about the people in their employ as long as the work gets done, and if the work doesn’t get done there’s generally hell to pay. Toxic work environments can more often than not be chalked up to a toxic boss, as they will play favourites with employees that meet their impossible standards, and encourage cliques that stop workers from realising they are being taken advantage of. Not to mention a total lack of any kind of recognition or reward.

If you’ve worked with someone like this before then you likely have some kind of idea how a leader may differ from these people.

Leaders are patient, accommodating, and intelligent. They understand that their employees have a life outside of work, and do everything possible to make sure that there is a healthy balance between the employee’s life and their work obligations. Leaders ensure that their employees are emotionally and mentally stable, and provide resources (company subsidised counselling, leisure facilities, work outings, rewards, and incentives) to ensure that their employees are taken care of, valued, understood, and appreciated. There are no demands under a leader, nor are there unwarranted punishments, toxic habits, and unfair productivity expectations. There is understanding, peace, a positive environment, and fulfilling work.

The Importance of Empathy

In short, the role of empathy in leadership is precisely that. Someone in a position of management without empathy doesn’t account for their employee’s well-being, and is more likely to be a toxic, unpleasant person to work for. Meanwhile, those with empathy lead the way forward for the company as a team. They understand and respect employees and make the workplace a safe and hospitable environment to be in.

Empathy is one of the most important things employees are looking for at this point, and at a time when humanist values are quickly overtaking ideas of monetary worth, and workers are more empowered than ever, can you really afford to not be empathic?


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