Leadership Qualities That Matter the Most: Lessons from Davos 2014

Empathy: Connecting with a multitude of diverse, demanding, and sometimes unpredictable constituencies is an inescapable reality of today’s world. This point was driven home time and again at Davos 2014. In a networked environment relationship management can hold the key to unlocking value in an infinite variety of ways — with customers, colleagues, subordinates, strategic partners, unions, activist investors and corporate board members.

Possessing the ability to really put yourself in the shoes of another individual and understand where they’re coming from, how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, what their underlying agenda is and motivations are all key leadership requirements. There are two sides to empathy. One is cognitive empathy, the ability to understand what another individual is thinking. Second is emotional empathy, the ability to understand how another person is feeling.

Empathy shouldn’t be confused with its first cousin, compassion. A compassionate leader can help set the right cultural tone in an organization. But too much compassion can actually be counterproductive for a leader, particularly when tough interpersonal decisions need to made that will inevitably cause collateral damage.

Jeffrey M Cohn