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Study: Only 40 Percent of Leaders Are Empathetic

Topics: Data & Research

Empathy is essential for successful leadership. Unfortunately, a new study finds that only 40 percent of leaders are empathetic.

New research from DDI, a leadership development organization, has found that empathy is one of the most important leadership skills for success. However, they also discovered that leaders have a lot to learn in this department, more often than not.

Why Empathy Matters

There is a big difference between a leader and a manager. Leaders inspire others through enthusiasm and competence. Managers simply direct. They focus on the completion of projects and tasks, and they spend their time directing their employees toward those ends. Leaders, on the other hand, inspire the people that work for them. This is their focus.

There are fundamental differences between these leadership styles. One thing that separates a great boss and a mediocre or bad one, is the capacity for emotional intelligence and empathy. Leaders motivate people rather than just manage projects. But, in order to do that well, they need to be able to connect with the people that work with them. They need empathy.

Science Says That Leadership And Empathy Go Hand In Hand

Researchers from DDI wanted to understand which of the qualities of leadership emphasized in their training program are most essential. The skills they seek to hone fall into two distinct categories, practical skills and personal skills. While all of the eight skills that come under these headings are essential, researchers sought to determine which matter most for leaders.

Researchers used data from 15,000 DDI leadership assessment participants for this study. They also asked people who manage those leaders to evaluate participants independent of any knowledge of the assessments. Researchers used all of these scores to make determinations of leaders’ abilities.

Researchers found that empathy topped the list as “the most critical driver of overall performance.” It was related, consistently, to better performance in leadership domains such as “coaching” and “decision making” as well as “overall performance.”

Many Leaders Lack Empathy

Empathy correlates with successful leadership in a big way. Still, a lot of bosses seem to be missing the mark. Only 40 percent of the leaders assessed for this study were found to be “proficient” or “strong” in empathy.

“We know from research that empathy is on the decline,” Bianca McCann, Chief Human Resources Officer at BetterWorks, tells Forbes. “That’s unfortunate considering it’s one of the most critical capabilities needed to lead and drive employee engagement in a diverse, dispersed and constantly changing environment. Having powerful empathetic conversations is a critical piece of being a great manager, and to truly hear the employee, deep listening and suspended judgment are needed skills. Yet in the busy world in which managers are entrenched, both of these skills are a real challenge.”

Thankfully, the skill of empathy, and other cornerstones of emotional intelligence, can be learned. The work begins by appreciating the inherent value of the skill. This research helps to clarify the importance of that goal.

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