Hiring Leaders with Empathy Can Pay Off Big Time

Nov 15, 2016
Hiring Leaders with Empathy Can Pay Off Big Time

Who do you think of when you think of the characteristic of empathy? Perhaps you have a close family member or a trusted friend who has a knack for understanding your thoughts and emotions. The highly empathetic people in our lives are pretty impactful. They serve as positive forces through genuinely caring about us and wanting us to succeed.

Empathy is especially important in business and is a common emotional intelligence competency found in effective leaders. Empathetic managers have positive relationships with their staff and truly want each of their subordinates to reach his or her potential. These managers have an intuitive sense of their direct reports' perspectives, show an active interest in their needs, and encourage employee engagement.

On the contrary, destructive relationships between managers and employees generate employee turnover—and, according to a 2015 Gallup report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, these relationships ​are ​one of the top reasons why employees leave jobs. Think of your own job history. Have you ever had a boss who negatively impacted your workplace and hindered your job performance? No one wants to work for an unforgiving, uncaring, and unappreciative leader. That's unacceptable in the eyes of most employees, especially the newer workforce. Younger generations, in particular, seek coaching and mentorship from management. Since empathetic leaders have the ability to understand the experiences and emotions of other people, these individuals make excellent mentors and can successfully develop future leaders—which in turn reduces employee turnover, benefiting the company by helping the bottom line.

Hire Leaders with Empathy

When looking to hire leaders with empathy, interviews can be telling. Ask candidates questions about their coaching styles and past examples of teachable moments with subordinates. Besides learning how the leader interacts with employees, also try to determine how he or she acts with customers. People often confuse political acumen with empathy, so it is important to not only interview for empathy but also to test for it. Empathy is an emotional intelligence competency, therefore, and results from an emotional intelligence test that measures a person's biases and clarity in thinking (resulting in decision-making and judgment) will actually provide objective data about a candidate's level of empathy.

Almost all empathy is inherent. Some people are just naturally more perceptive of others' emotions and have the readily available gift of compassion. However, empathy can be learned. It is important to understand that behaviors that inhibit empathy must first be identified and corrected. For example, consider the tendency for impatience, which can lead to irritability and anger. Through leadership development, coaching sessions, practice conversations, and role-playing, individuals can gain awareness of the source of their unwanted behavior and learn how to recognize, cope with, and correct any blind spots blocking empathy.

While empathy is a desirable competency, there needs to be a healthy balance in leaders. Too much empathy and a manager may want to hire everyone or may have difficulty implementing company rules. Too little empathy in a manager and employee accomplishments may go unrecognized, employee engagement may drop, and turnover will surely rise. While a good degree of empathy is ideal ​for most leadership positions, some roles such as collections are actually better suited for individuals with little empathy. A highly empathetic repossession manager may feel conflicted about certain job requirements.

Don't underestimate the power of empathy in the workplace. Understanding leaders know how to bring out the best in employees—and the company. Build a stronger, more successful organization by hiring leaders with empathy.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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