Why Empathy is the #1 Leadership Skill?

In Tim Cook’s 2017 MIT commencement address, he warned graduates, “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.” The Apple CEO is not alone in recognizing and emphasizing the importance of empathy — the ability to share and understand others’ emotions — at work. At the time of his remarks, 20% of United States employers offered empathy training for managers. In a recent survey of 150 CEOs, over 80% recognized empathy as key to success.

According to recent studies carried out by the Development Dimensions International (DDI), empathy is the biggest single leadership skill needed today. In a global survey DDI discovered that the top ten performing businesses in the 160 studies the “Global Empathy Index” generated 50% more net income than the bottom ten performers. According to Richard S. Wellins, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of DDI, “Being able to listen and respond with empathy is overwhelmingly the one interaction skill that outshines all other skills.” Other research has backed up DDI findings. Dianne Crampton at Gonzaga University found that “Empathy is a universal team value that promotes high commitment and cooperation in the workplace. “Becoming aware of the importance of their leaders developing empathy, companies are responding with sending their leaders to empathy training.” According to the Wall Street Journal, 20% of employers now offer empathy training which is up substantially from ten years prior.

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