Empathic Leadership: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Narcissistic, unapologetic and manipulative – businesses of today have moved away from bosses who exert authority in such vindictive manners. In fact, businesses of tomorrow are moving away from “management” and moving into “leadership” – making it a more popular and positive term to managing your workforce and business. 

There are many skills and traits in a great leader – one of it being empathic. As an empathic leader, you’ll have the ability to relate to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others and react accordingly. However, empathy can also bring about some bad results – let’s unravel the good, the bad, and the ugly of emphatic leadership.

The Good

Empathy Drives Revenue
In a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, managers who showed more empathy toward their direct reports are viewed as better performers in their jobs by their bosses. 

In fact, a leader who has developed a sense of empathy will have a much better understanding of how to handle different situations; such as the right way to encourage underachieving staff or recognising and driving High Potentials in your team. The result would not only lead to better revenue, but even improve the overall productivity of the business. 

Empathy Encourages Innovation
As an empathic leader, you’ll be able to recognise the weaknesses and strengths of your team. This would also mean you would be able to better relate to the challenges that they’re facing, and find a solution quicker. 

Apart from increasing productivity, empathy also encourages innovation as staff feel comfortable in voicing their opinions, hence sparking greater ideas.

This is further proven when Google released Project Aristotle, a study in 2017, showing that the company’s most important new ideas came from B-teams comprised of employees exhibiting a wide range of soft skills including: equality, generosity, curiosity toward others’ ideas, empathy and emotional intelligence.

The Bad & The Ugly

Empathy Can Lead To Poor Decisions
However, Paul Bloom, professor of cognitive science and psychology at Yale University and author of Against Empathy, offers a counter argument on how empathy can distort our judgment. In his study, two groups of people were tasked to listen to the recording of a terminally ill boy describing his pain.

One group was asked to identify with and feel for the boy, while the other group was instructed to listen objectively and not engage emotionally. After listening to the recording, each person was asked whether they would move the boy up a prioritized treatment list constructed and managed by medical doctors. 

In the emotional group, three-quarters of participants decided to move him up the list against the opinion of medical professionals and potentially putting other individuals at risk. In the objective group, only one-third of the participants made the same recommendation.

From this, you can see how empathy could push you to risk others for the benefit of one – and that could put your business objectives at risk. 

Empathy Can Hinder Diversity
Many studies have shown that we favour people who are similar to us. In fact, hiring managers tend to recruit those who have the potential to be friends – which could prevent your business to have the people you need, and more of the people you want.

Other Leaders on Heart vs. Head...

Speaking exclusively to WealthUp, Jonathan E. Chua, CEO of BeamAndGo, shared more on how he leads with both his head and heart: “I don’t consciously make an effort to balance the heart and head. For me, it’s simple – doing good is good business sense.

As the CEO of BeamAndGo, a financial inclusive payment and digital marketplace that empowers migrant workers by giving them control over the use of their remittance back home, we have  “3 Rules” that everyone in the company has to abide by:

  1. Always give 110%.
  2. Always be professional – deliver what you promise.
  3. And most importantly, always be respectful and show respect. This is true in our relationships with customers, partners, employees, shareholders, and competitors.”
‘Doing good’ is the business, and it takes heart and head to successfully provide the value that our customers deserve.

– Jonathan Chua, CEO, BeamAndGO

Adding on to how doing good can drive the business, he commented: “These 3 rules are at the core of the businesses and guide our corporate strategy and our individual behaviour and conduct.

At BeamAndGo, we are serving migrant workers who are under-deserved and neglected; and providing a positive social impact is inherent to our business. We are pro-active and diligent in providing inclusive services like financial control, access to ethical credit, and stored value facilities. 

‘Doing good’ is the business, and it takes heart and head to successfully provide the value that our customers deserve. Heart and head is intertwined and not on separate tracks. They are the same.”

Written by

Cheryl Toh

Last updated on

December 18th 2019, 5:17 pm

Skip the daily news.
Subscribe to our Weekly newsletter for relevant market news and global trends.