In decades gone by, empathy was viewed as a weakness. Climbing the clinic ladder often meant doing so with little regard for the experiences of others. Today, however, empathetic leaders are sought-after and admired. In fact, recent studies have found that empathy is the one interpersonal skill that continually outshines all others. Empathy creates more engaged, decisive and effective leaders. Clinics that value empathy also demonstrate higher levels of commitment and cooperation among team members.
According to research by a global leadership consultancy, Development Dimensions International (DDI), empathy involves acknowledging others’ feelings and experiences. Empathetic leadership means paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal communication, and letting others know that their perspectives are understood and valued.
Current examples of empathetic leaders may include New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Faced with a national tragedy, Ms Ardern was praised for her ability to combine empathy with swift and determined decision-making. Indeed, politicians, businesses and clinics are now investing in ‘empathy training.’ with empathy no longer seen as a weakness – it’s a strength.
Here are five compelling reasons why empathy should be the cornerstone of your leadership style:
- You will become more effective and engaged
Effective leadership starts with you. In a decade-long study, researchers from DDI analysed 15 000 leaders from 300 companies. Their research revealed that empathetic leaders are 40% more effective at engaging with their practitioners and making informed decisions. In fact, listening to team members and responding with empathy was the most important skill that leaders needed to be successful.
- You will be more equipped to resolve conflict
Empathetic leadership involves having continuous dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders. These conversations enable you to understand the concerns and frustrations of others – making you better equipped to diffuse conflict and identify solutions. According to DDI researchers, this skillset also enables leaders to manage large networks and teams more harmoniously.
- Your clinic will be more cooperative and productive
Clinics thrive with an empathetic leader at the helm. According to a report by Fast Company, engagement surges when people feel acknowledged and appreciated. In turn, engaged practitioners will do more for their employers and for each other. When empathy is shown at a leadership level, this is modeled top-down, meaning greater cooperation and increased productivity in the workplace.
- Your team will be more positive and creative
Empathy also has measurable commercial outcomes. Workplaces that value empathetic leadership demonstrate lower levels of absenteeism, and less practitioner turnover. Team members that feel positive and understood are more likely to devote their energies to creating new ideas and processes that can propel a private practice forward.
- Your team will encompass greater diversity
At its heart, empathy is the ability to understand that no two life experiences are the same. Empathetic private practices encourage diversity by recognising that individuals each have a unique insight to offer. Empathy leads to greater inclusion and contribution from a diverse range of voices.
As Jacinda Ardern said, “It takes strength to be an empathetic leader.” Empathy is a skill that leaders at every level can continually grow and refine. Empathetic leaders display the following behaviours:
- Seeking to understand, rather than seeking to be understood.
- Actively listening without distraction or interruption.
- Being fully present and taking a genuine interest in others.
- Encouraging a diverse range of voices, even those who are less outgoing.
- Demonstrating compassion and understanding, rather than judgment.
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