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Research reveals the most important leadership quality – and it’s probably not what you think

Alex Valenti
12 Oct 2021

What qualities come to mind when you think of leadership?

Enthusiasm. Decisiveness. Integrity. The ability to delegate.

Although these attributes are important components of any business, new research has shown that there’s one quality that trumps them all: Empathy.

Of course, we all know that empathy is an important quality to have, but what makes it the most important? According to a global study by Qualtrics of over 2,000 employees across Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US, it all comes down to the multiple kinds of stress experienced by employees.

The research found that around 67% of respondents reported an increase in stress since the start of the pandemic, while 57% experienced a specific increase in anxiety and 54% admitted to being emotionally exhausted. Additionally, those surveyed also found that they had trouble concentrating at work (28%), were and taking longer to finish tasks (20%), found it difficult to juggle their responsibilities (12%).

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has completely upended our working lives, but the report suggests that it’s empathy – above every other leadership quality – that employers have to get right in order to rally their workforce.

Now more than ever, empathy in the workplace is holding together teams, helping employees feel valued and listened to while also driving significant business results. In a separate study, Catalyst found that empathy has a vital role to play in four key business areas:

  • Innovation: 61% of 889 employees surveyed reported that they were “often or always” innovative at work when their employers were empathetic to their concepts and ideas.
  • Engagement: Links between empathy and employee engagement were also uncovered as 76% of respondents who experienced empathy from their employers felt more connected and engaged with their workspace.
  • Retention: 57% of white women and 62% of women of colour said they were unlikely to their place of work when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies.
  • Inclusivity: Empathic leadership also contributes to more inclusive workplace experiences, with men (42%) and women (42%) both reporting to experience inclusion at the same rate under managers who demonstrate empathy.

These findings demonstrate how senior leaders may have a unique opportunity to affect the lives of every employee when they choose to lead with empathy. Not only does empathy actively combat burnout and improve the mental health of your workforce but bringing it into business decision-making also increases cooperation and collaboration, leading to more innovative and sustainable business models.

It’s also a particularly important skills to demonstrate when working with early career talent, as the example you set is likely to be much more influential in the shaping of their attitude towards work and company culture. Early talent often requires varying degrees of support, training and nurturing to reach their full potential – and having empathy and a genuine interest in their success can boost their workplace confidence, productivity, and their overall self-esteem.

While empathy really is nothing new, it does have a new level of importance in the wake of the pandemic and appears to be the one core skills that will drive the way we work for decades to come.

12-10-2021Alex Valenti

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