June 18, 2014

The Most Important Leadership Skill To Have

Leadership Skills

The skill that every leader needs to have, is empathy.

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner – Merriam Webster, Empathy

It’s important not to confuse empathy with sympathy.

There’s a subtle, but important difference. To be empathetic simply means to understand the needs of another person, you don’t necessarily have to agree, it just means that you appreciate what the other person is going through.

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in how leaders view their employees, and how employees want to be treated.

Traditionally, employees were treated solely with results in mind, leaders didn’t really care about their personal lives, and they really kept work and personal relationships separate.

Now, that isn’t so true anymore.

Good leaders understand that now it takes a certain level of connection, and a certain level of interest in helping employees grow as people.

More and more, employees personal lives are spilling over into their professional lives, and they are starting to blend more than ever.

I often mention how employee engagement and having happy, productive employees really comes down to treating people with respect.

In order to be able to treat your employees with respect, you need to be able to understand them, what they’re going through, and what’s really on their minds.

The good news is that research shows that empathy can be learned.

It’s also been proven to be good for business.

A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathy is positively related to job performance. The study found that managers who show more empathy toward employees are viewed as better performers.

Here’s a quick slideshare that talks about being a good leader:

I’d like to talk about 2 TED talks that I really encourage everyone reading this to watch.

The first one, is by a young lady named Ash Beckham, who personally understands the power of empathy, and the hardship that people go through, when she experienced coming out as a lesbian.

It’s a very powerful, emotional TED talk about facing your demons, and not being scared to talk about what’s going on.

The second TED talk is by Daniel Goleman, who is a psychologist, and an expert in emotional intelligence, and actually wrote a book called Emotional Intelligence. In this talk, he asks, why aren’t people more compassionate more of the time?

Again, it’s about understanding that everyone goes through hardship, and we need to be sensitive of these things.

Why Practice Empathy?

Besides being able to increase employee satisfaction, you will be a better leader, and your employees will like and respect you more.

Here are a few other reasons why practicing empathy is important:

  • Treat people the way that you want them to treat you
  • Understand the needs of people around you.
  • Understand the needs of your customers
  • Learn how to motivate the people around you
  • Perceive through not only your perspective but the perspectives of those around you.

Ways To Practice Empathy

I’m sure there are many ways to practice empathy, but the two I want to share with you now are:

1. Listen

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey

This is such an important lesson to understand. Don’t listen just for the sake of listening, really listen.

Ask follow up questions to make sure you fully understand what the other person is saying, and always take some time before you respond.

Don’t just blurt out the first thing that pops in your head, think before you speak.

2. Imagine

I love people watching.

Whenever I go out downtown, or to largely crowded areas, I always wonder what everyone’s story is.

This is a good way to practice empathy, because you’re actively trying to put yourself in their shoes.

Do You Think Empathy Is Important?

I really believe that empathy is the most important leadership skill to have. I think empathetic leaders make for better leaders, because they’re more authentic, and they show more compassion. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts on twitter @JacobShriar or @Officevibe.

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