Empathy. The Leadership Performance Driver

June 30, 2017 12:41 pm

In last week’s edition, I talked about the importance of validation. The day after I wrote that piece I was reflecting on a conversation with someone I had just met with and realised that I neglected to validate their current experience. Easy to write about, easy to agree with but much harder to do in practice – but absolutely worth the journey.

Validation is expressing to another that it’s OK; you’re allowed to experience, think and feel that – after all, you are only human. When I, on the odd occasion, am in a shitty mood and I choose to be vulnerable and disclose my feelings to a trusted other, their validation strengthens me, helping shore up my inner emotional foundation. It shows me that I’m normal and provides perspective – “you’ve travelled all week, worked 80 hours and then danced all night – no wonder you’re out of sorts with yourself today.” And interestingly, the origin of the word validation means strong, effective, powerful, active. It also forms the basis of the word valiant.

This week, a friend of mine sent me a report compiled by Development Dimensions International (DDI) which is the analysis of 15,000 leaders from 300 organisations in 18 different countries. The findings from the research indicate that EMPATHY is the leading driver that contributes to high performing leadership stating that “Overwhelmingly, empathy tops the list as the most critical driver of overall performance.”

Whether your leadership is in the home, in social settings or at work, if you want to increase your effectiveness it might pay to visit the empathy factor. Empathy is a learned skill and is derived from the ancient Greek word empatheia. This is made up of two words which mean “in or at” and “passion or suffering.” If we take empathy directly from its origin it effectively means that we enter into another person’s emotional state.

And this entering into another’s emotional state is the leading driver of effective leadership? Who would have guessed?

While validation says “it’s OK – you’re allowed to experience that,” empathy says “I get you. I feel what you feel. I hurt your hurt. Your excitement and joy are mine too – let’s go celebrate.”

Leadership isn’t just about vision, planning, focus, inspiring and the host of other traits that exemplify good leadership. At the core of it are the people we are leading – those who are following us. And it makes sense that when those following our leadership know they are important to us, are valued, that we take time to connect with them personally, validate their experiences and walk an empathetic journey them…this creates followers who will largely produce more, stay with us longer, go the extra mile and demonstrate increased loyalty.