Blog Post

3 Reasons Leaders Should Up Their Empathy Quotient

Laurie Ruettimann (she/her)

Author of "Betting on You"

There's a trend in the marketplace to talk about happiness in the context of work. From Adam Grant to Eric Barker, thought leaders tell us that you'll be a much better employee - and a more productive leader, by the way - if you are happy and well adjusted.

There's another group of psychologists out there who believe that gratitude is the key to higher productivity and a better workforce. Robert Emmons believes that you will live a much richer life, and achieve better professional success, if you keep a gratitude journal and recognize the good work of your colleagues.

I like both concepts. Human resources professionals can't get enough of happiness and gratitude, in my opinion. I would go a step further and say that the most successful leaders in any field are the ones who demonstrate empathy on a regular basis.

Empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is the killer leadership app. Here are three reasons why you should up your "empathy quotient" and start leading with your heart.

Empathy Allows You to Identify Happiness

Human resources professionals are challenged to make data-driven decisions on a daily basis. Quantitative analysis is important, but it's not everything. How do you quantify how much a valued employee loves her new puppy at home? Can the cloud tell you when your new employee who' recently relocated to your town misses her mom? How do you use data to evaluate when an esteemed colleague looks a little blue and needs a pep-talk?

Tapping into empathy will help you look for the important emotional triggers in the office that can help you enhance the "highs" and circumvent the "emotional lows" that are very common in a collective environment.

Empathy Helps You Express Gratitude

For those of you who are parents, you know that it takes more than twenty years for your kids to thank you for teaching them tough lessons in life. When you leverage empathy as an effective leadership trait, you can look around and see important cues from your colleagues. Did someone offer you feedback in a kind and straightforward way? Have you learned something new from a co-worker who didn't have to share her ideas but took the time to make your life easier? If you're empathetic, you'll thank someone before they realize that they are owed a thank you.

Retain Your Best Employees with Empathy

Nobody quits a job for money. People quit jobs when they don't feel loved and appreciated. I once stuck with a job that paid 25% less than market value because my boss was so kind to me during a family illness. When I returned from leave, I worked harder than I've ever worked to ensure that my team members knew that I loved them dearly. When I tried to explain why I was willing to earn less money than my peers at other companies, I told the story of how my boss expressed empathy and understood how I was feeling. She was marvelous. When she left our company, I followed her to her new organization!

Empathy is not just an amazing leadership skill. It's an essential life skill for anyone who wants to feel good about herself. Let's face it -- the global recession taught us that we work in tough economic environments that require us to watch out for ourselves. However, I believe that we look out for ourselves when we look out for other people.

Empathy is the best skill for HR professionals to possess if they want to grow into thoughtful, effective and astonishing leaders.

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