Is empathy still a key leadership skill?

Breckon Jones
February 9, 2022
min read
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G'day folks, Breckon here: Crewmojo advisor, talent leader at Deloitte. Well I'm recording this bit of content from up north inQueensland on the lands of the Kombumerri people who are the traditional custodians of the country that we call the gold coast up north and in visiting this beautiful land it's made me reflect on how important it is to empathise with other people, to walk in the shoes of others, other cultures and appreciate the perspectives of others. And as we head into 2022 it makes me think of probably the most important thing, most important skill that any leader will need to possess in the face of whatever 2022 throws at us, and that's the skill of leading with empathy.

Custodian of Other People's Careers

Now I think sometimes we forget that the real job of a people leader is to be the custodian of other people's careers and not just to be a super technical expert, someone who can solve all the technical problems of those who are more junior to you. But, you know, most of the formal training that you receive in your careers is likely to be focused on building those technical capabilities. Think of all of the courses that you would have probably done when you were younger or in the earlier years of your career, maybe a graduate program or an apprenticeship or an up-skilling course, that you know sorts of things that get you a bigger role or a broader portfolio. All of that investment goes into technical skills and specific technical capabilities on how to actually do the job and the role in the remit that's in your job description. And what happens is you do these trainings and you build up those skills, and you do well and you get a small team that you're responsible for, and then maybe a bigger team. And maybe you become a leader of leaders. And all the while you learn as you go on being a people leader, you coach, you learn how to be a custodian of other people's careers, sometimes trial and error. But the more you're exposed to it the better you get.

Now I’ve been fortunate in my career that I’ve worked for companies that have acknowledged that alongside technical skills training, you need to have an equal investment in people leadership skills training and some of the best leadership training courses that I’ve ever been on, that I’ve ever done have really emphasised the ways that you build up those skills, including empathy. And as such you elevate your EQ, your emotional intelligence. That's the ability to see things from other people's perspectives.

Brilliant Jerks

You know the opposite of high EQ leadership (people who are able to empathise easily with others), is what many of the tech companies call their brilliant jerks. They're the people who are very good technically but they're not great at showing empathy or leading others.And nobody really wants to be led by a jerk. So leadership is a skill that you need to practice. To get a head start if you can do some training in this space. But it's the day-to-day training that really gets you buff and builds the leadership skill of empathy. And empathy is high, probably right at the very top of my predictions of the skills that are needed for the future.

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