Empathy – A Crucial Leadership Skill

Henry Ford said it well:

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.

This secret to success is empathy. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy asthe ability to understand and share another person’s experiences, ideas, actions, and emotions.

Why Empathy?

As leaders we need to have empathy with nearly everyone we meet.  Empathy is a crucial business and leadership skill that allows us to see through the eyes of and put ourselves in the shoes of

  • Our customers
    • Do we understand and appreciate what an irate customer is going through when they call our customer service line?
    • Do we understand the personal hot buttons and issues that a prospective customer uses to determine whether or not they buy our product or service?
  • Our employees
    • Do we appreciate the way our behavior is understood and interpreted by our team?
      • Our screaming fits
      • Our constant interruptions
      • Our desire to always get the last word in
    • Do we consider the consequences of our actions and the effect they may have on others?
      • Our requests for constant early morning, late night or weekend meetings
      • Our slowness in responding to questions from our team
      • Our refusal to follow up on suggestions for improvement from our team

How to be More Empathetic in Two Minutes

Empathy is not innate; it develops over time. And it requires practice.

  • We need to listen without interrupting. Just this simple act of listening tells the other person that we care and lets us understand where they are coming from.
  • Paraphrase: After listening to the other person, we need to paraphrase what they are saying. In effect, we are putting their words into our mouths and, through this, gaining a deeper understanding of what they are thinking and saying.
    • “Please let me be sure that I understand what you just said…”
  • We need to deliberately focus on the voice inflection and body language of the other person to understand better what they are truly saying and what they are truly meaning
  • We need to take two minutes and think it through
    • Before any customer meeting or major discussion, we need to take two minutes to think about the customer or the audience’s viewpoint. We should focus on the audience and imagine that we are them.
    • Before any major action, we need to take two minutes to think about the repercussions and knock-on effects of the proposed actions on others – our team, our customers, and our other stakeholders.

By being empathetic and thinking more from the other person’s point of view, we are better able to understand and relate to other people. This helps us to lead, sell, and communicate better – all keys to leadership and personal success.

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About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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