LEADERSHIP: New Research Reveals “Practical Empathy” as Key to Great Leadership: Creating the Conditions for Performance

Examining thousands of open-text comments about good leaders and great leaders, a new study identifies key themes of exceptional leadership; at the core is a relationship that engages and supports team members.

Lead author, Joshua Freedman, explains

“In business, ’empathy’ is often seen as ‘soft,’ but the research makes it clear that exceptional leaders are highly empathic – as well as hard-headed.  This blend of head+heart is key to performance today.”

Freedman is CEO of Six Seconds, a global organization working toward supporting one billion people to practice the skills of emotional intelligence. 


The study, entitled, “Talking About Great Leaders: Creating Conditions for Performance,” uses a process of textual analysis to identify themes in comments about “high performing leaders” compared to “highest performing leaders.” The comments, from supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates, highlight a common theme: Focus on others.