Often I am asked if empathy is a desirable leadership trait. My response is always emphatically “yes!”. Empathetic leaders motivate others by cultivating relationships. In this Harvard Business Review article, the Happy Warrior is the leader who combines empathy and strength. However, it’s a rare breed of leader who does this intuitively.
Leaders naturally fall into one of two categorizes -- task-focused leaders (warrior) or people-focused leaders (happy). Task-focused leaders score high on strength. Strength is the nuts and bolts of leadership. It’s the determination and perseverance needed to set a vision into motion and achieve results. People-focused leaders score high on empathy. They exude warmth and understanding, the human side of leadership. This is how they connect and build rapport with others.
Not surprisingly, task-focused leaders are more likely to be found in start-ups and small businesses. They have an idea they want to execute and bring to market. Success and rewards are closely linked to getting things done and the bottom line but less so on the “softer side” of leadership. When business is good and success is achieved any leadership shortcomings (lack of empathy and warmth) are overlooked.
What happens when adversity strikes and future prospects are looking dim? That's when a leader needs colleagues and team members to dig deep and rally. However, leaders who haven't cultivated meaningful connections and relationships then find their support waning among people unwilling to stay and work through the difficult times.
Leaders who exhibit strength and empathy have a stable center from which they operate. At their core is an unwavering belief in themselves and those around them. They have the uncanny ability to persevere through the toughest and trickiest of situations with poise and grace. They never seem to lose their cool and people are happy to stand along side them in a time of crisis. They have a plan and seek input from others. They make tough decisions. They take action. They treat everyone with respect and dignity.
Related: The 8 Signs of a Bad Leader
Here are six ways to determine if you are modeling strength and empathy
1. You face troubles without being troubled. Whatever the challenge you encounter, you are steadfast in believing things will work out in the end.
2. During a crisis, you keep open communications with others. You make everyone part of the solution.
3. You listen and acknowledge the points-of-view of others. You want people to know they are valued and being heard.
4. You don’t panic and you don’t lay blame. You remain calm, clearheaded, courageous, and supportive of the team even when frustrations are mounting.
5. Your actions come from a genuine place. You are sincere in all that you say and do.
6. You speak with a relaxed conversational tone and that signals your willingness to create an open dialog. Leaning forward and smiling will show you’re engaged and help put people at ease.
Being a strong and empathic leader, especially during adversity, takes discipline and fortitude. It requires a daily commitment to put the needs of others and the organization ahead of your own. With these as hallmarks of your leadership, you will have unwavering commitment and respect during thick and thin.