Empathy in leadership is a vital skill. Empathetic leaders are those who generally interact well with others one-on-one and work effectively in cooperative efforts (Kerr, 2016). This should not be confused with charisma where leaders magnetically draw people to them through an engaging personality. Empathetic leaders make an effort to avoid hurting others’ feelings and place the needs of people at the forefront of their leadership efforts (Kerr, 2016). Such a leadership approach is evident in those who adopt transformational, servant, and authentic leadership models (Northouse, 2013). Leaders who are low in empathy often have a difficulty understanding what others are feeling and thinking, and they struggle to give due consideration to others’ feelings and thoughts (Kerr, 2016).
Empathetic leaders often struggle in the area of delegating. They are so aware of how their followers are feeling, that they develop a guilty response whenever delegating to others which is followed by an apology for the delegation. Unfortunately, what this does is removes the desire of followers to serve and please their leaders, while also cutting off avenues for efficient productivity. Delegating is a great process for developing other leaders, cross training skills, and seeking out possible successors (Rothwell, 2005), so it is important for leaders, empathetic or not, to engage in delegation.
For this reason, here are a few keys to delegating well (Finzel, 2013):
- Choose qualified people
- Exhibit confidence in the person
- Make their duties clear
- Delegate authority with tasks
- Set up accountability points
- Allow room to fail
- Give praise and credit for work well done
By following these guidelines, empathetic leaders will sense permission for feeling bad, and will avoid being manipulated by savvy followers feelings. This will allow leaders to be trained and efficiency to be enjoyed.
Finzel, H. (2013). The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make (New edition). David C. Cook.
Kerr, B. (2016, August 6). For Leaders: Sixteen Ways of Developing Empathy – Leadership Development Institute [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.leadershipdevelopmentinstitute.net/for-leaders-sixteen-ways-of-developing-empathy/
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.