Empathy: The manager’s elixir

A six-pack to bring to the boardroom

For an employee to thrive when put in a managerial role, he or she needs a large toolkit of skills. Sometimes the change is drastic compared to what was required to get by at your previous position. Managers more accustomed to technical or more hands-on roles within their firm, having had more of a role to play in daily operations, may not be fully aware of the changes they will encounter in the next role. The responsibility of an individual in a leadership or management role is largely to oversee others often termed as people management.

Most skills involved in people management are intangible and hard to develop without proper emphasis and care. Over time, diminishing returns in career advancement will follow from focusing purely on the operational side of the firm. So leaders must look around them at their business and organisational environment to calibrate their strengths and build on them. Today’s MNCs harness cultural differences to create a shared direction amongst diverse individuals with different perspectives and values. For all the benefits that there are to this diversity, it can also act as a barrier to effective communication and understanding.

To be effective, managers need to bring something intangible to the boardroom: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand why and what others want. It refers to your capability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It is crucial for a manager to become more competent at understanding the person in their teams to better motivate them and to help them reach the true potential that they are capable of.

Understanding others is essential for good communication. Without good communication there can’t be effective work. Building empathy towards others at the workplace allows for better expression of thoughts and ideas and suggestions without roadblocks such as hurt and arguments. It is necessary to understand a subordinate’s traits and ambitions, as well why they act the way they do. This level of understanding helps to properly motivate and give feedback, two of the most powerful ways managers make an impact.

Whilst networking is touted as something crucial to advancing your career, without the ability to empathise with whom you are speaking with, it would be difficult to turn any casual acquaintances you have made into proper friends that you can rely on in the future. Building these strong relationships is obviously the cornerstone of networking ability. Relying on your contacts is essential to moving ahead. And if you have never known how to properly empathise with others, you will never be able to manage stakeholders.

Krishan Sharma wrote this article for Comaea Consulting with the research assistance of Animan Amit. Krishan is a management consultant having recruited over 100 managers, assessed over 500 executives and coached over 100 leaders in his 20 years HR career. Animan Amit is an undergraduate student of Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. 

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