Like this CEO, there are many (often successful) people in organisations who are direly lacking in empathy. Some executives are quite narcissistic. Self-centered as they are, they may find it difficult to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Other executives may have sociopathic traits. They project an air of sincerity, but in reality they feel nothing, and are fine with that. Some people even turn empathy into a destructive force, using their keen sense of a person’s emotional state to manipulate or destabilize him or her. Many more people, like the CEO, are wary of the chaos that might ensue if “personal feelings” were acknowledged. But behaving in these ways in our increasingly network-oriented society comes with a steep price.
Empathic executives are better at managing relationships. They establish safe environments in which people can express hopes and fears. Because it is “contagious,” empathy contributes to better negotiation, collaboration, and conflict resolution.
Empathy plays an important role in effective team formation. When the expression of empathy is part of a company’s culture, its stress level will be lower. All of these advantages lead to a more committed workforce with a greater motivation to perform beyond expectations.
Manfred Kets de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change