The era of the empathetic boss

More than 30 years since Gordon Gekko declared “greed is good”, have we finally woken up to a more empathetic leadership style? Our LinkedIn family certainly thinks so. When we asked them in a recent poll to tell us what they considered the most important leadership trait today, 81% said leaders should be empathetic and understanding.

Even political leaders, in some countries at least, recognise the importance of empathetic leadership. A book about Jacinda Ardern is called ‘Leading with Empathy’. But, as the New Zealand prime minister has acknowledged, “It takes courage to be an empathetic leader.”

That perceived need for courage is something we recognise in our coaching work with CEOs and organisational leaders. Such is the focus on the numbers, the bottom line, the demands of shareholders, that leaders can lose sight of the ‘whole’.

4D leadership

Being empathetic requires an understanding of the four dimensions of leadership. We need to recognise that fundamentally we are human beings, not human doings. Too often we’re living in the world of doing (IT) and ignoring the critical dimensions of being (I) and also relating (WE). Unless we pay attention to all three dimensions, we will struggle to build the empathy that is so critical to successful leadership.

Now, the perceptive among you will have realised that I just mentioned three dimensions – being, relating and doing – yet I introduced 4D leadership.  The fourth dimension is that of increasing sophistication in the other three dimensions of I, WE and IT. Increasing our maturity, particularly in the I dimension, requires us to own up to those aspects of ourselves that we would rather ignore. If we do that then we will show up in a completely different way; more authentic, more empathetic and more fulfilled. Ultimately, that enables us to be more effective leaders.

Understanding ourselves

An assessment is a great place to start when you want to develop self-awareness and build your empathy as a leader. It can offer an objective and measurable insight into what’s driving your behaviour and what you might need to do to increase your maturity. We believe assessments should be developmental – offering you ways to improve, rather than just pigeon-holing you into a ‘leadership type. Assessments that really work for gaining insight into our emotions, motivations and performance include the Complete Energy Audit and the Complete Values Profile.

I believe – and sincerely hope – we are now entering the era of the empathetic leader. Bosses who demonstrate understanding while they motivate us to be better human beings and achieve more are surely a huge advance on Gordon Gekko.

What do you think? Are you seeing more empathetic leaders in the world of work?

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