The new Vitamin E?!

When you think of critical leadership competencies (the behaviors that correlate highest with performance), Empathy may not immediately jump to mind.  Recent research by DDI suggest the following:

"Overwhelmingly, empathy tops the list as the most critical driver of overall performance".

Yes, that's a strong statement.  The conclusion was reached after DDI studied the relationship between "Interaction Skills" (grouped into 8 categories) and job performance in 4 "Leadership Domains" (Decision Making, Coaching, Engaging, Planning and Organizing).  This research's findings validate earlier studies, including this one by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Merriam-Webster defines Empathy as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner;  also: the capacity for this"

Leaders are facing increasing ambiguity and uncertainty coupled with the blurring of organizational boundaries and a greater need to collaborate across organizations (More on future challenges in this white paper from CCL).  These conditions require diverse minds and perspectives to come together and 'walk in each other's shoes' in order to solve complex problems.

So, it should come as no surprise that empathy is a key competency of Emotional Intelligence, widely believed to be the hallmark of an effective leader.  Think of empathy as a foundation for stakeholder engagement - the awareness of others' needs, wishes and concerns.

Another lesson from the research is that less than 50% of leaders are "proficient" or "strong" in empathy.  Leaders need to become more emphatic and prioritize leadership development in this space.  Empathy isn't just a 'nice to have', it's a critical success factor. 

How do we improve our capacity for empathy?  One proven technique is the ongoing practice of Mindful Meditation.  Stay tuned for more on this topic soon.

Happy New Year!