Leadership – Why Empathy is so Important

Leadership - showing the way

It’s funny how sometimes in life some experiences and events collide, and that has certainly been true for me lately. Certain experiences have converged together to make me think about several different aspects of leadership, one of them being the importance of empathy in management and leadership.

A Personal Example

On a recent trip I made with my stepdaughter to a local National Trust property. I love the National Trust and have been a loyal member for many years and visit their properties whenever I can.  I’ve had some great experiences of late, even with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Unfortunately, this was not the case with my most recent visit to this local property.

Interestingly, this coincided with a recent Desert Island Discs episode I heard with the Director General of the National Trust Hilary McGrady. It was an entertaining programme with some interesting insights into her leadership style, in a very challenging role. I left the programme admiring her well communicated mission and purpose for the National Trust, and I found the interview both inspiring and empathetic.

However, when visiting this local property, her leadership and sense of purpose did not translate down to ground level. Instead, there was a real lack of alignment between strategic leadership and operational management, resulting in poor communication amongst staff. Customers were left with mixed messages and a general feeling of disconnect between service and customer choice. In our case, this resulted in a poor visitor experience, especially around the catering choices, which were spectacularly disappointing.

Feedback

If I have a poor experience, I don’t name and shame providers through anonymous websites. Instead I wrote a comprehensive critique of our visit to the manager of the site. In response, I received a considered and thoughtful email thanking me for my feedback and taking on board how our experience had translated on the ground.  The manager had listened, and he explained how he’d shared the feedback with his team and incorporated some of my suggestions to improve the overall customer experience.

Empathy

This is a great example of how managers can be empathetic to the needs of their staff and proactive in response to their customers, and personally I felt my feedback was welcomed.

Taking the time to interacti with customers and let them know what you’ve done as a result is what good leadership and management should look like. This incident made me think of a great talk by Simon Sinek about Empathy. This is a brilliant and insightful presentation about how important it is for leaders to practice empathy. Because as he states, the primary job for leaders is to be responsible for their people and to lead and support their employees.  If you haven’t seen this talk, I would really encourage you to watch and listen here.

Lessons to Learn about Empathy and Leadership

So, here are some of the lessons I think we can learn about empathy and leadership?

  • Leaders and managers are responsible for the people they work with and they should share the success and achievements in their businesses and take responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Strategic visions need to align with operational plans and leaders and managers need to ensure this is communicated clearly and effectively so that staff can deliver the best customer experience.
  • Great leaders need empathy and perspective and should take care of the people in their charge and enable and empower them to do their jobs. Failure to do this can lead to micro-management and employees can be left feeling distrusted and demotivated and unable to do a really good job.

The reality is that empathy takes a while to develop, along with good leadership and management skills. Lots of people are promoted to management positions because they are good at their jobs and are then not given the tools they need to manage. Failing to train managers to lead, and to teach them the tools that can make management work effortlessly,  are common issues in business.

How Aim Higher can help? 

This really shouldn’t be the case, as anyone can gain the knowledge they need to manage well and develop these skills with the right support and training. This is where Aim Higher Training and Development can help, as we work with individuals and businesses to deliver management programmes that work to upskill and develop effective and empathetic leaders.

At Aim Higher Training, we work with clients to create high quality bespoke training and qualification-based programmes. Often aimed at addressing specific business needs, such as managing change or developing teams, we help managers gain the confidence they need to lead and manage their teams.  We offer virtual blended learning and one to one coaching for students on our management and business skills programmes to support them to achieve qualifications and to develop the skills they need to lead and manage.

Please contact [email protected] to find out more.