The Strategist

Empathy is the new management

07/08/2016 - 16:31

Until recently, Aaron Gibson, managing one of YMCA’s regional offices, could not call myself a sensitive leader. He regarded himself as a pragmatic leader with high standards. Many employees in dismissals complained of his sharp and unceremonious style of communication. Everything changed after Gibson has got an intensive empathy training. He realized that he did not understand his staff.

Pierre Phaneuf via flickr
Pierre Phaneuf via flickr
Increasingly bigger number of companies make developers of new products put themselves in their client's shoes. Cisco Systems, Breakthru Beverage Group and Ford Motor are having empathy trainings to improve quality of management, retain employees and improve design of new products.

People who are good in listening to others and responding to their feelings, become more successful leaders. At that, the ability to experience empathy outweighs importance of rest of the necessary skills, found researchers at Development Dimensions International (DDI) consulting firm. They have studied 15 000 executives from 18 countries this year. During a survey held in 2011, Center for Creative Leadership company (when interviewed over 6,700 executives from 38 countries) also found that leaders able to feel empathy work more productively as they build and maintain effective communication. Training of empathy for managers was organized in around 20% of US companies, and this is much more than 10 years ago, said Senior Vice President of DDI Richard S. Wellins. According to his forecasts, the percentage of such employers will double in the next 10 years.  

Empathy improves financial performance. Net profit per employee from the top 10 companies of the Global Empathy Index in 2015 was 1.5 times higher than 10 companies from the ranking’s bottom. The index takes into account factors such as attitude of a company towards employees and quality of communications with customers. 

Empathy Business consulting company does calculation of the empathy index. Incidentally, it advised the British sports car manufacturer Aston Martin. Aston Martin has created a council consisting solely of women to participate in development of concept of a new model DBX. The board includes client companies from around the world, they can veto the proposed technical solutions. 

Typically, managers do not consider empathy necessary for managing people, and do not pay enough attention to it, says mentor Diane Powell. During the training, participants are given a task to an inform overworked employee of errors committed by them in the documents. One of the participants tried to reassure his interlocutor, saying he appreciates his contribution to the work. Unexpectedly, the employee angrily explained what he would prefer to hear from the boss: "I am guilty. I did not give you support which you need, and I see that you're upset". Empathy should be practiced constantly until the skill embeds in the unconscious level. However, Powell points that a leader still must maintain control over his subordinates.

Original by Joann S. Lublin, The Wall Street Journal (

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