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Empathy at work: Changing Organizations

The holocratic approach to business has become such a buzzword in recent years that many leaders have taken the plunge and started to restructure: no more titles, no management and no hierarchical systems. But this perceived utopia in the workplace is often extremely difficult to achieve, especially considering that most companies are being run on a very traditional, post-industrial methodology.

 But the answer to this problem may as simple as encouraging more empathy at work.

Why empathy? It is hardly associated with being a strong and successful business leader. Yet a recent study done by the University of California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism revealed that the top 5 necessary characteristics of a great business leader are:

  • Adaptability to various situations
  • Cultural competence, which allows a person to effectively work in cross-cultural situations
  • 360-degree thinking: the ability to have hindsight, insight and foresight
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • And of course, empathy.

Across a broad spectrum of disciplines, cultures, countries and industries, empathy surprisingly ranked first.

So what exactly is empathy?

“It is a deep emotional intelligence that is closely connected to cultural competence. Empathy enables those who possess it to see the world through others’ eyes and understand their unique perspectives.” source

Why does empathy take centre stage? There may be a few answers:

The Internet Age

In a digital era, the consumer’s voice is no longer a distant letter in the mail. It is a very clear and potentially extremely damaging siren that can only be addressed through empathy. If a customer feels unsupported they have the ability to spread the word rapidly. Customers want to be heard and they want a supplier or service provider to acknowledge their concerns. Empathy will help you to understand your customer and to know who they, what they want and why they want it.

 Internal Relations

To restructure a hierarchical company it is essential to structure your teams in an empathetic way. Understanding each of your team member’s specific talents, appreciating their differences and allowing them to excel at their own game will bring in more talent and keep them there. Your empathy can create successful and productive teams and a profitable organization.

Management Wars

Sadly, according to an independent survey done by Harvard, empathy seems to be lacking in middle and senior management. These leaders need empathy the most since their decisions have massive impact across an organization. By promoting empathy within these levels you can greatly improve trust in a company.

But empathy alone won’t do the trick. All the respondents of the survey agree that all 5 qualities are necessary to have a successful organization – they are all interlinked and cannot exist in isolation. Address these 5 points and start building a successful and profitable business.



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