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  • Writer's pictureGina Marchetti

How empathy can be a leadership strength in Organisational Change.





Organisations and businesses often make the mistake of thinking that their Leaders don’t necessarily need empathy to lead and manage change effectively.  This is not a conscious decision, but more likely to be a skill that is not prioritised as high as other leadership skills. IQ rather than EQ … Shouldn’t authority and position be enough? 


I am sure we have all seen many examples of this playing out in our workplaces; where leaders believe that hierarchy and or position, intelligence, and a no tolerance approach to change aversion will lead to a better change outcome and a quicker delivery of benefits to the organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Relying on these attributes will most certainly lead to ineffective change management and ownership of the change and ultimate failure of the business change – big or small. 


For many years, Empathy was considered, and still maybe in some organisations, as a weakness rather than a strength. Empathy is the ability for a leader or a person to deeply listen and understand the perspective of another person; Not just HEAR but put themselves in the shoes of the other individual and see the issue from their perspective. 

Some of you may have heard about the 6 and 9 perspective. This is a great tool and method to use when you are trying to get opposing sides to be empathetic and see a problem from the perspective of the other function or team. Both sides are right, yet they are also wrong in the eyes of another individual – this is all due to their perspective, where they are in the process chain and their lived experience. 

 

Empathy can be a powerful and transformative force in organisational change. Here are some ways that this skill can be transformative in the context of organisational change – whether its big or small. 

 

  1. Understanding the Impact of the Change. 

Empathy allows leaders to understand and appreciate the concerns, fears, and aspirations of employees during times of change. Once this is understood it is much easier to plan and tailor the change strategy to meet underlying issues that need addressing. The Change is therefore managed more effectively as you have “HEARED” what the issues are. 

 

  1. Build Trust with the people involved and impacted by the change. 

Individuals are more likely to trust their leader and believe in the change if their concerns are heard and responded to with empathy. They may not always agree with the outcome but the FEAR and Resistance they exhibit has a better chance of being managed, as the culture is one of openness rather than directiveness.  

 

  1. Communicate Effectively 

Leaders that possess empathy as a skill, are generally more likely to communicate openly any change as the emotional intelligence they possess allows them to anticipate what the key stakeholders will want to know. They are more likely to ensure that the communications are sensitive to the impact to individuals. So, it is more meaningful to the people that are involved.

 

  1. Reduce Resistance 

Empathy by its nature, builds trust and openness. As a result, it is not guaranteed, but the ability to work through the resistance and move to an effective solution as a team is promoted and may happen in a quicker timeframe. Team building becomes the focus and leaders promote unity as the change is worked through. 

 

  1. Employee wellbeing and engagement. 

Organisational change can be stressful for employees. Empathetic leaders prioritise employee well-being, recognising the impact of change on individuals. Because this is recognised it can be resourced by having support programs in place to assist the people through the change. 

 

  1. Realisation of benefits  

Realising the business benefits of any change relies on the people as well as process and the tool. Empathetic leaders are more likely to be effective in the change process, which drives sustainability and the ability to “make the process stick” for the long term. Engagement and ownership happen much quicker as the TEAMS trust each other and understands each other’s role. 

 

  1. Culture of Safety  

Every failure or mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow. The only mistake in business is doing nothing. An environment that fosters this is crucial then in delivering good change – empathy allows leaders to promote a culture of psychological safety and a safe place to land for their employees when there are problems or issues as the change is executed. 

 

There are plenty of other benefits that may not be individually listed here. The absence of empathy in change management can have wide-ranging negative consequences, impacting employee morale, organisational culture, and the overall success of change initiatives for a benefit realisation perspective. 

 

Recognising and valuing empathy as a core leadership skill is essential for navigating the human side of change and fostering a positive and adaptive organisational environment. 

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