Many people are surprised when they hear that empathy is one of the key qualities of all effective leaders. I think it is because they confuse sympathy with empathy. What’s the difference? Sympathy is sharing or agreeing with someone’s emotions, mostly grief. Empathy, on the other hand, is awareness and understanding of other people’s emotions, whether you share them or not. When you are aware of what people feel and you apply that understanding in professional and private life, your relationships improve immensely.
In communication, sales, negotiation, teaching and many other professional situations, empathy can take us a long way. It helps us make unbiased decisions, communicate effectively and build trust. This is why this skill is crucial for leaders. Even more, empathy enables leaders to influence better, understanding how their words and actions are perceived by others. With that knowledge, it is easier to communicate ideas in the way that make them interesting or important for other person.
Leadership coach Lolly Daskal, is one of many experts who talk about empathy as a key competence of successful leaders. In her article “Why The Empathetic Leader Is the Best Leader”, published on her website LollyDaskal.com, she says that leadership is ultimately about others and inspiring them to take actions. Lolly says: “When you care about another, you create a strong bond. You are better able to connect and understand their interests and perspective. Imagine the power of your teams, your business, your leadership with the bonds between them strengthened by empathy.” Lolly Daskal also suggests that demonstrating empathy sharpens people skills, but she recognizes that it is not an easy task. Lolly’s advice is to start with taking interest in people you work with and to show it in conversation.
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