Empathy a top leadership skill for tomorrow’s SME leaders

Small Business Canada

Women are more likely to lead with empathy

According to a recent CEMS study, empathy, communication, and resilience top the list of the fastest-rising leadership traits, replacing traditionally-heralded technical skills and authority. This is a stark change from the leadership style of yesterday. The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed leadership, and with it, the expectations for how good leaders should communicate.

The communication skills that were traditionally valued by leaders were more focused on strategy, strength, and steadfastness. But this type of leadership based often came at the expense of the individual. When the pandemic blurred the lines between work and home, and business and personal, employees needed more from their leaders. They needed empathy.

Women leaders were well-suited to lead through this transformational employer-employee relationship as studies consistently show that women display more empathy and compassion, the effective skills for managing through times of crisis. But as we emerge from this crisis, and look ahead to tomorrow’s workforce, will empathy continue to be as important to small and medium businesses?

The answer is yes. And here’s why

  • Empathy builds a strong organizational culture

When workers feel supported, stable and safe, feelings of belonging increase. With threats of the “Great Resignation” still looming, small businesses may have an even harder time recruiting and retaining talent than larger organizations as often the CEO is also the head of Human Resources. It’s imperative that culture, wellbeing, and support are at the core of their approach to HR.

1.	Empathy builds a strong organizational culture
  • Empathy increase engagement

According to a study by Catalyst, 76 percent of employees with more empathetic leaders reported higher levels of engagement. Higher engagement among a workforce means that employees are more likely to be invested in the company and the work they are doing, resulting in higher quality and productivity. This engagement enhances an SME’s ability to compete in competitive marketplaces.

  • Empathy has financial benefits

Resistance to this shift towards more empathetic leadership is typical because of concerns that financial results will be a secondary focus, forfeited to make way for new, effective leadership soft skills. But the reality is that empathy has tangible financial outcomes. With lower turnover, you save the costs of recruiting and training. With increased wellbeing, the costs of absenteeism and burnout are minimized. And the same Catalyst study also found that empathy encourages innovation, which is critical to business growth and expansion.

The pandemic put a spotlight on great, and not-so-great leaders. While women may be more naturally empathetic, both men and women rose to the top of that list. The“secret sauce” for this success is strong communications skills and an ability to both steer the ship and make sure the crew was ok simultaneously. Leaders will need to continue to go beyond traditional management skills and embrace their EQ to motivate and nurture their teams.

Empathy a top leadership skill for tomorrow’s SME leaders

Author:  As president of Kaiser & Partners, Janine Allen, CM, develops and oversees strategic communications programs that enhance visibility and transform relationships. She helps clients manage through challenge and change, protecting and repairing corporate brand reputation.

Janine holds a post-graduate degree in public relations from Humber College and an honors Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Queen’s University. She is recognized as a designated Chartered Marketer by the Canadian Marketing Association and was named CPRS’s PR Practitioner of the Year in 2017. She is currently an executive board member of CPRS and a board member of the Pickering Baseball Association.

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