LEADING WITH EMPATHY : A client who is exploring his identity and legacy as a leader has been wondering aloud if he’s too “soft” a person to ever be as successful as his more intimidating and feared peers?

Worried you’re too “soft” a person to ever be as successful as your more intimidating peers?

More and more research supports our experience that his chances of success, in fact, are far better for him than for his distant, tougher colleagues.

In her recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss, Emma Seppala cites research by Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy:

Leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. Why? One reason is trust. Employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.

Seppala goes on to cite studies showing that there are proven health benefits to this approach, especially in reducing stress in the workplace.

Whereas a lack of bonding within the workplace has been shown to increase psychological distress, positive social interactions at work have been shown to boost employee health—for example, by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and by strengthening the immune system. In fact, a study out of the Karolinska Institute conducted on over 3,000 employees found that a leader’s qualities were associated with incidence of heart disease in their employees. A good boss may literally be good for the heart.

Authentic empathy is three-fold

Daniel Goleman in an article about being a focused leader describes the three kinds of empathy that are important to the emotional intelligence (EI) needed to build social relationships:

Cognitive empathy – the ability to understand another person’s point of view
Emotional empathy – the ability to feel what someone else feels
Empathetic concern – the ability to sense what another person needs from you

Compassion takes empathy further — it’s “the bridge between understanding and caring”

As Goleman goes on to explain to HBR’s Andrea Ovans in a recent interview about his forthcoming book, A Force for Good, in which he describes the Dalai Lama’s compassionate approach to addressing the world’s most intractable problems:

Compassion takes empathy further. When you feel compassion, you feel distress when you witness someone else in distress – and because of that you want to help the other person.

I think that in the workplace, that attitude has a hugely positive effect, whether it’s in how we relate to our peers or how we are as a leader, or how we relate to clients and customers. A positive disposition toward another person creates the kind of resonance that builds trust and loyalty and makes interactions harmonious. And the opposite of that – when you do nothing to show that you care – creates distrust, disharmony, and causes huge dysfunction at home and in business.

The most successful leaders learn how to lead with empathy and compassion: They can walk in the other person’s shoes, genuinely care about them, and find concrete ways to do that – in both their work and their life.