Why being empathetic is now a leadership essential

By Amaia Alcalde, Managing Director at ico Design
No longer just a nice-to-have, empathy in leadership is now a must-have argues Amaia Alcalde, Managing Director at ico Design

For the longest time emotional intelligence and empathy were seen as ‘soft skills’, secondary nice-to-haves that weren’t given real value nor importance in a business sense. They were seen as the antithesis to strength, success and resilience, the pillars of good old-fashioned business.

We now live in an era of hyper communication and accountability. The expectations have never been higher about not only what a company says, but how a company behaves. In this changing landscape, individuals demand more. They demand more of their jobs, their relationships, the brands they buy from and the leaders they elect. The biggest psychological shift we are experiencing as a society is that we are collectively demanding better; it's no longer about more at any cost.

Doing better requires firstly a deeper understanding of motivations and influencing factors, it’s understanding the why. You can only truly uncover that through empathy. Empathy allows you to understand what challenges somebody is facing and how it influences their actions and decision making.

Empathy is not a nice to have anymore, it’s now a must. Understand your team members, to enable them to be their best, be more fulfilled, to collaborate better with others. You will find that your team is more invested in the company’s success and in helping other team members because they feel they matter. Not only will it improve efficiency, but it will also improve talent retention, which as we know can be terribly costly and disruptive for any business.

According to Forbes, 76% of millennial employees will leave a company if they don’t feel appreciated, that’s a staggeringly high rate and I can imagine a similar figure will be true for Gen Z employees.

Understand your customers to provide them with more suitable products and services. Sell more and you can accrue many one-time purchases, great. Sell better and you are building a legion of loyal customers that will continue to use your products and services. Turning your customers into fans is the dream of many marketeers, this is the main advantage start-ups have over established companies.

Startups have unique ability to connect with customers

Startups have the ability to connect with their consumers, build their tribes and community of people that share a mindset and interest, and they have an open and direct channel of communication with them. Not only will these customers continue to buy your existing and future products, but they will also recommend you to their peers and turn them into fans.

So, you see how acting with empathy can provide phenomenal results for your team and for your overall sales figures. The last frontier of empathy is yourself, the leader. Acting with empathy will improve your communication skills and help you share information more effectively, it will boost your ability to know how to get the best out of everybody and ultimately it will transform you from a manager to a true leader.

This is the starting point for any business that wants to improve how they manage things as truly transformational change must always happen from the leadership team first.

If this feels too removed or difficult to impart in your company, remember that the biggest changes always start with the smallest gestures. Here are a few examples worth trying:

  • Provide timely feedback An annual, structured review is useful and necessary, but it can never beat ongoing dialogue where feedback can be shared on the spot and the employee given the opportunity to be heard and to act.
  • Build culture Invest time and resources in helping the team to bond, not just bigger events like a summer party and a Christmas party but with smaller occasions like instilling Show & Tells, creating internal Book Clubs, etc.
  • Make time You are busy, of course, but simply allocating some part of your week to reach out and connect with colleagues will show them that they are important to you as well.
  • Pass it on Lead by example and encourage others to adopt similar behaviours, you will quickly notice the benefits of the trickle effect this will have. 

These are pretty simple steps and behaviours to implement, and you will be rewarded with a much more engaged and effective team. Give your business some true strength and resilience to tackle whatever the future lies.

About Amaia Alcalde, MD of ico Design

Amaia's career spans over a decade helping established companies and entrepreneurs to ignite their brands. She actively helped to set up the foundation of Deciem and BURST oral care as some of the most successful brands created in the ico studio and high-profile transformation projects such as London Luton Airport and Jollibee.

Amaia leads a diverse team of creatives and project managers with a collaborative culture and entrepreneurial spirit. As well as MD of ico Design, she also provides mentorship on several business incubators in the UK and US.


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