In the wake of the COVID pandemic and major changes in the workplace and employee attitudes, empathy has become a hot topic in leadership. But there is little reliable data on empathetic leadership and whether (and how) it has become more important in recent years.
At the 2024 Society for Consulting Psychology annual conference in Austin, TX, Rob Kaiser and Ken Nowack unpacked how empathy contributes to leadership and reviewed Rob’s latest research with over 5,000 executives exploring statistical relationships between leader empathy and outcomes including engagement, productivity, and effectiveness and how they changed in the first- and second year of the pandemic compared to “the before times.”
The punchline: the link between leader empathy and employee engagement spiked in the fateful year of 2020 and has subsided a bit since—yet remains stronger than it was pre-pandemic. On the other hand, the dangers of “excessive empathy” in terms of reduced productivity have also gotten stronger.
Perhaps what has changed the most, according to the data, is greater tension for empathetic leaders in striking a balance in optimizing both people/culture outcomes and business results.
Rob and Ken concluded their presentation with practical tips and techniques for individual, leadership, and organizational approaches to develop empathy and apply it in a way that balances a healthy culture with a profitable business.
Download their slides on The Evolving Role of Empathy in Leadership.
See also, Rob’s article on empathy and versatility and their criticality in post-pandemic leadership from the 2023 People + Strategy issue on Leadership 2030.