As we live and lead in a world that can feel increasingly polarised, we need it now more than ever. As we navigate reopening, reemerging and remobilising people into the future of work, we can’t lead effectively without it.

Businesolver has been evaluating the state of empathy in (American) workplaces for the last six years. Each year since its inception, more than 90% of CEO’s, HR managers and employees have agreed on the importance of empathy at work with 72% of employees saying it’s a key driver in employee motivation.

It might be tempting to dismiss it as a ‘nice’ skill. The research shows it’s a key factor in employee motivation, retention and delivering better business outcomes. It’s a leadership imperative.

Empathy might be a soft skill but it’s not fluffy.

It’s complex, demanding and strong.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is pity for a person in their experience. Empathy allows us to sit with a person in their experience.

Empathy doesn’t just feel for a person it feels with them.

Empathy helps us:

  • Sense the emotions of those around us.
  • Surface the unspoken conversation in the room.
  • Feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own.
  • See the world through their eyes and from their perspective.

You do not have to agree with a person’s perspective. You may not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you are able to understand. This instinctive ability to understand is rich and powerful for leaders.

In his MIT 2017 commencement speech, CEO of Apple Tim Cook urged students:
“Measure your impact in humanity not in the likes, by the lives you touch; not in popularity, but in the people you serve…Stay focused on what really matters. There will be times when your resolve to serve humanity will be tested. Be prepared. People will try to convince you that you should keep your empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.

We’ve come a long way in understanding the value of empathy, but we still have work to do.

According to the 2021 State of Workplace Empathy, 7/10 CEO’s said it’s hard for them to consistently demonstrate empathy in their working life and 68% feared they will be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace.

Empathy is essential but it’s not easy.

In this next short series I’ve entitled ‘Elevating Empathy’ we’re going to explore how we can dial down the things that cause us to reduce empathy and dial up what we need to elevate it.

In the meantime here’s a question to reflect on:
“When have I been on the receiving end of empathy, how did it make me feel?”