Leading with Empathy: an essential skill to achieve success (Part I)

Leading with Empathy: an essential skill to achieve success (Part I)

Maitén Panella is a Psychologist. She works with C-Suite Executives, Leaders and Entrepreneurs combining techniques from Emotional Intelligence, Gestalt and other psychological theories to remove obstacles, achieve goals and unlock hidden potential.

Leading with Empathy: an essential skill to achieve success (Part I)

Empathy is a powerful business tool. 91 percent of CEOs believe empathy is directly linked to a company’s financial performance, while 93 percent of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. 

Nonetheless, reality shows that it is not practised enough (if at all) and despite all the research demonstrating what empathy can bring to the table, an increasing number of employees don’t think their employers are empathetic.

In their 4th annual empathy study, Businessolvers’ report shows that:

 72% of CEOs say the state of empathy needs to evolve
 58% of them struggle with showing it in a consistent way

Even though corporations are aware of the importance of incorporating empathy into the culture of the organisation, there is still a gap between the intention and the action.

Making empathy part of the company’s culture calls for a conscious effort. Why is it so important?

Because empathy

  • boosts productivity and retention of talent 
  • accelerates innovation 
  • increases sales, loyalty and customer satisfaction
  • creates long term bonds and cooperation
  • has a positive direct impact on turnover


To be able to put them into action, it is crucial to better understand the different types of empathy and the role they play in workplace dynamics. 

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman broke down the concept of empathy into the following three categories: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.

Let’s take a quick look at them:

Cognitive empathy refers to the ability to comprehend what a person might feel or think. It is like a channel of “information”. It answers the question: “What is the other person going through?” 

For example, you know that Brian would like to ask about a possible promotion; using cognitive empathy, you realise he is having difficulties in finding the right way to open up this conversation. Another example: your clients have been asking for a direct channel of communication with your company. You discover that the Q&A page on the company’s website is not entirely comprehensive as it can’t answer personalised questions. You realise that it does not seem to be enough for an excellent customer retention policy. 

Emotional empathy refers to the ability to understand the feelings of another person through an emotional connection. It answers the question: “How does the other person feel?” 

For example, following the previous cases, you see that Brian feels his supervisor is not going to pay attention to his request and he feels intimidated and insecure. You understand this and realise that this is why he is delaying the conversation. In the second example, you realise that your clients feel frustrated because they would like to have a direct channel of communication with a real person and not a bot because they need the human connection.

Compassionate empathy is the third type and goes far beyond the first two. It is also known as empathic concern, and it involves action: understanding and sharing the feelings of the other person is the key to engagement. It answers the question: “What can I do to help?” 

For example, an empathic response could be to be willing to help Brian find ways to open up and be confident enough to start the conversation. In the other case, it could be to be open to innovation and ready to make changes. A solution might be to implement a new customer service line on Social Media, for example.

Leading with Empathy: an essential skill to achieve success (Part I)

Empathy is, without any doubt, a driver of business success. But why is it so challenging to implement?

Many seasoned CEOs still believe that the best way to do things is to just expect the team members to do their job, not giving too much credit to training or extra guidance followed up by support. They prefer to function as a separate entity, and, if the employees don’t perform as expected, they ask for a meeting in the belief that pointing out the mistakes will do the trick and set them straight.

Research shows, nevertheless, that this approach leads to a plummeting of productivity, making employees feel completely abandoned and “scolded” instead of guided and supported. 

In the end, what we discover is that empathy can be a powerful tool to use in the interests of the company. 

This is the reason why improving it is an essential part of any successful enterprise.

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