July 9, 2021

The role of empathy and emotional intelligence in leadership


“Too many business leaders have been conditioned to think of leadership in terms of power and control. But there is a better way to lead-one that combines equal parts serving and leading. This kind of leadership requires a special kind of a leader: a servant leader.” - Ken Blanchard, Chief Learning Officer Magazine.

The management pyramid started to take shape during the world war in the 1900s. During that time there was the General, who controlled and commanded. Below him were his ‘Managers' who usually reported to him. These managers had their ‘juniors' who then reported to them. This design went on to become the traditional organizational structure or the Management Pyramid. This ‘Top-down' structure worked very well at that time because things were simpler back then.

Then slowly, changes began taking place which undid the traditional concept of the individual in the workplace. People's expectations for the workplace started changing. Working together as a team started gaining prominence against the individual. This led to innovation and growth. There can be problems with the processes and tools in an organization when the underlying people are not involved in the power structure. A power structure is one of the most important components of any organization.

Many companies followed an organizational structure which has the CEO at the top of the Management pyramid, management in the middle, and all other employees at the bottom. In this structure, the decisions are passed down from the top through layers of managers to the bottom of the pyramid.

However, the modern work environment demands intelligent leaders and managers, and it is very important for them not to give their direct report ‘orders', but support in terms of knowledge, strength, and wisdom. A better way to view the management system is through an ‘inverted pyramid' which changes the ‘Me' command into ‘We' control. Effective leadership focuses on combined success rather than individual glory. The organizational culture is such that employees make important decisions on their own and at the same time keep the management informed.

Every organization has its own power structure and culture. However, it depends on the organization's leadership style. It is the secret behind effective management and is responsible for shaping the success and innovativeness of the business. But the most important supporting factor of this structure lies in the "emotional intelligence" and “empathy” of the leaders.

Empathy is not just a social skill and does not only mean to understand the other person's position and logic. Instead, empathy is an essential soft skill that requires emotional intelligence and refers to the ability to be fully aware of and understand the situation of the other, experiencing the emotions, ideas, opinions or belief. In fact, it is regarded as one of the most critical leadership skills.

“Measure your impact in humanity, not in the likes, but the lives you touch; not in popularity, but in the people you serve. I found that my life got bigger when I stopped caring about what other people thought about me. You will find your will too. Stay focused on what really matters. There will be times when your resolve to serve humanity will be tested. Be prepared. People will try to convince you that you should keep your empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise. – Tim Cook, Apple, CEO

Empathy is a powerful tool for intelligent leaders and effective managers to have in their arsenal. However, leadership effectiveness requires the ability to be absolutely open. Empathy in leadership at the workplace is about caring for the team on a personal level while challenging them at the same time. Thereby, empathetic leaders can create a constructive feedback culture at the workplace, while preventing negative emotions. This will help the employees to build interpersonal relationships and achieve their highest level of productivity. Successful leaders bring their ‘full self' to the workplace instead of just their professional side and keep the team's interests before theirs.

Empathy means to put relationships first

An intelligent leader should always put relationships first in a team environment. It is a very crucial part of a leadership role in an organization. This means that everyone in the workplace should support each other in any situation and also celebrate together when a goal is achieved. Emotional intelligence in leadership and direct relations with the team would create a sense of empathy. It will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the organization which is very crucial for effective communication and relationship management.

Empathy means being aware of cultural differences

In this era of globalization, people in an organization come from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Being well-versed with cross-cultural norms reflects social awareness and crucial communication skills, as well as, shows true leadership abilities. This ultimately leads to positivity in the organization and it is a fact that intelligent leaders well recognize. For example, in some cultures, it might be rude to challenge authority, while it might be encouraged in other cultures. Leaders with empathy recognize that altering the communication style and pattern to match the other person's cultural norm reflects emotional intelligence and will reinforce the message of authentic leadership.

Above all, empathy means to be considerate towards the people

In a leadership position, it is quite simple to only focus on the daily problems and hustles, and ignore the people that make the mission possible. However, self-aware leaders know how disruptive that might be to employee emotional health, as well as, to critical work relationships. Moreover, the very successful organizations in the world always prioritize its people first, and effective leaders consciously work to create positive environments where people are self-motivated to make great things together. Here is where the employees will feel confident and work at their highest potential.

And that is where we, at Workshore thrive to be!

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