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Why empathy is a key leadership skill

Heather Nolan
November 18, 2020
Why empathy is a key leadership skill

The most common reason people leave jobs: A bad boss.

A good leader understands the needs of their employees just as well as the needs of the association and its members. This high level of understanding for your employees’ needs is achieved through active listening and empathy. 

Although job descriptions often leave out many soft skills related to emotional intelligence, empathy is a key leadership skill. 

In other words: you can’t improve as a leader if you don’t know anything about the struggles of your employees. 

Dr. Jen Thomas, a psychologist, TEDx speaker, and business coach, said empathy is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

“I've seen firsthand that the ability to put yourself in another's shoes is a key trait of successful leaders,” Dr. Thomas said. “If I don't think about how my words will make you feel, I'm likely to both offend you and not realize that I've done so. 

“Then when confronted with my misdeeds, I'm also unlikely to give a sincere-sounding apology. Why? Because apology languages are based upon feeling empathy and showing sincere remorse.”

Business leaders go to Dr. Thomas to learn how to be more empathetic, because the return on investment is so high — a boss who truly understands their employees and cares about them, which leads to lower turnover and higher productivity.

“Empathy is about recognizing feelings and being a safe person,” she said. “Its payoff is limitless.”

You can be business savvy and intelligent, but without emotional intelligence to help you understand the needs of your employees, your leadership won’t be as effective.

To build and maintain a team of engaged employees who feel comfortable enough in the workplace to share their ideas, thoughts and feelings, you must have empathy. 

Learning to place yourself in your employees’ shoes and allow their perspectives to inform your decision-making will help build trust and a stronger workplace culture within your association.

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Heather Nolan

Heather Nolan is a marketing specialist at Sidecar. A former journalist and social media manager, Heather lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and grumpy rescue dog.

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