The importance of empathy in Leadership
“Do you think a leader should be strong and upfront or vulnerable and emotional?”
When I first came across this question, I was quite confused because the two categories mentioned shouldn’t be presented as a choice, as it seems rather unfair for leaders all over the world to either be “strong” or “vulnerable”. Some of the strongest leaders I have come across or read about are those that are not afraid to show emotion, which not only makes them relatable but also an embodiment of strength and courage.
The ability for anyone to be intact with their emotions enough to recognize, process, and productively translate them is a priceless skill for everyone, which means it inevitably becomes a must in people that are leaders, regardless of age, race, nationality, gender, etc. This helps develop empathy towards others and I feel there is no power greater than being able to empathize with those around you.
The importance of empathy in leadership applies to all walks of life.
Being someone who has been an active part of working in corporate culture in various departments, at multiple companies and positions; I have had the privilege of interacting with a variety of individuals at leadership roles and I can easily say, there is a vast difference between someone who can empathize with what you are feeling and someone who can’t.
I remember two instances in my life that reinstated the importance of empathy. One instance was when I was sitting at my work desk after a stressful presentation and someone from the higher management came up to me and said, “I will be sending across an email to everyone, but I really wanted to thank you for your added effort”. It is unexplainable how a gesture like that can have such a massive effect on someone. At that moment, I felt heard – without having to say much.
Another instance, was when I was feeling unwell and asked for sick leave. I only informed my direct supervisor and didn’t expect anyone to notice much. But to my surprise, an ex-supervisor checked in if everything was okay and constantly followed up for the days I wasn’t well. At that moment – I felt seen – without being physically present.
Leadership, however, is not defined by a position in a company or a country. It is defined by your potential to connect with another, to understand each other, and inevitably build that comfort of relatability where people don’t need to listen, but they do it anyway because you are speaking their words, making them feel seen and heard.
Leaders are as strong as their ability to empathize because that not only gives people a sense of belonging but makes them feel safe and with the tough times that prevail in the world today. It is not only staying safe that is important but feeling safe too.