IQ is a long-standing measure of a person’s intelligence and, perhaps, their suitability for a given role. But it is a somewhat blunt-edged tool for that purpose. In seeking an effective leader, for example, recruiters would be well advised to look out for the ability to apply empathy, as Anna Maria Rostomyan explains.
In today’s globalised and digitalised world, leaders need to be equipped with a number of very different skills to lead their teams towards success. Especially in post-pandemic times, there is a lot of uncertainty and hesitation in the global business world, where leaders have to come up with various solutions to guide their co-workers towards a common goal.
These are truly challenging times, where rapid decisions have to be made, targets have to be met, and goals have to be achieved. Nonetheless, a good manager/leader should also be an empathetic one and understand the emotions of their employees, since this very tiny skill may help them to understand the behaviour of their subordinates and support them to excel in their task of leading their team towards a common goal.
As Plato rightly stated, “The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos, and live in another’s world.”
According to Daniel Goleman (1995)1, empathy is one of the most important components of emotional intelligence (EQ). The author is convinced that EQ is often far more important than IQ, especially while dealing with people, both in our private lives and in business.
Emotional intelligence is a set of soft skills that enable interactants to cooperate peacefully and harmoniously with one another (Rostomyan, 2022a)5.
In fact, when handling difficult or stressful life situations, people need something more than IQ, because, for instance, when faced with a heated emotional moment, speaking partners require a definite set of skills so as not to get into resultant conflict talk in this or that dialogue. Likewise, in a life-threatening situation, one has to preserve a calm mind in order to be able to find a solution.7
Here, it should be mentioned that the very notion of “empathy” comes to the forefront and makes any kind of interaction smooth and flawless, since sharing the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, intentions, aspirations, and motivations of our business or life partners allows us to understand them better, which consequently makes our cooperation easier and actually more pleasant and harmonious.
In her article “Emotional Intelligence as an Essential Soft Skill for Success”, Dr Anna Rostomyan (2022b) clarifies the essential traits of these crucial EQ components:5
Self-awareness is the ability to recognise one’s own emotions, emotional triggers, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, intentions, behaviours, values, desires, and goals and to understand how these affect one’s thoughts and behaviour.
Self-management is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions. Everyone – including those with a very high EQ – experiences bad moods and negative emotions like anger, hatred, frustration, hunger and/or stress from time to time, but self-management is the ability to control these emotions, rather than having them control you.
Motivation is essentially what moves us towards taking action. When we face setbacks and obstacles, checking in with our motives is what inspires us to keep pushing forward. Sometimes outward impulses may motivate us, e.g. seeing someone succeed or seeing someone happy, and sometimes our inner emotional impulses, e.g. aspiration, inspiration, will and desire to succeed, etc., may motivate us towards success.
Relationship management is all about interpersonal skills, that is, one’s ability to build genuine trust, rapport, connection, and respect with one’s peers, family, relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. Truly, when interacting with one another, we have to be skilful readers of emotion to be able to build long-lasting and harmonious interpersonal relations, which will strengthen our relationship management skills.
Empathy is truly the highest stage of emotional intelligence (EI). It is our ability to connect emotionally with others and take into consideration their emotions, feelings, concerns, doubts, aspirations, and points of view. In this way, you tune in with the other’s emotions and build your actions upon them. Empathy is also essential for team harmony and the successful flow of communication.
In terms of categories of empathy, D. Goleman differentiates the following types, which do not function completely separately from one another, but can sometimes occur in unison or combined. Their essence is briefly described below:
- Cognitive Simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking of you or this or that special event, taking into consideration their likes and dislikes. This stage of empathy is also sometimes called perspective-taking, since on the rational level you try to share the perspectives of the other person. Here it is noteworthy that you put yourself in the other’s shoes on the rational level, but not on the emotional level, and take into account and try to understand their cultural, educational, personal, and familial backgrounds. This means UNDERSTANDING what the other feels.
- Emotional When you feel physically along with the other person, feeling yourself the emotions that they feel, as though their emotions were contagious. This means both understanding and FEELING what the other person feels on both the emotional and the rational levels. According to Dr Anna Rostomyan, our emotional and rational minds are intertwined and closely interrelated, forming the basis of our higher cognitive processes6. Hence, it is very difficult to draw a distinct definite separating line between these two in terms of empathy.
- Compassionate With this kind of empathy, we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel the way they do, but we are spontaneously moved towards lending a helping hand to support and assist them, if needed. This highest level of EMPATHY means actually caring about the other person. This combines both cognitive and emotional empathies, where you understand and feel and tune in with what the other feels, and you go one step forwards in taking action in supporting and helping the person in whatever issue or problem they are facing.
Actually, empathy has been known for its benefits in interpersonal relations in our everyday, ordinary lives but, quite recently, theorists have begun to pay attention to its benefits in leadership in the business sphere as well.2 And here, one of the pioneers is also Goleman.
Indeed, when leaders are aware of the emotions and feelings of their followers, employees, and co-workers, they will stand a better chance of tuning in with their motivations, intentions, actions, aspirations, and behaviours, which will give them a better chance of leading towards a certain common goal for the benefit of all the parties involved.
This very fact is especially detectable in “servant leadership”, where the “servant” leaders know exactly what their employees and co-workers feel and want, and where the followers are always supported by the leaders, who are always there to help and “serve” them so they can excel in their skills. This type of leadership was first proposed by Robert Greenleaf.3 In servant leadership, leaders do not see themselves as bosses or commanders, but instead they do everything possible to assist their team in attaining a special target and help them to achieve it, and don’t just leave the job at hand to them. Here, cooperation comes to the forefront and helps everybody involved to feel secure.4 Therefore, EQ skills have nowadays become essential and even crucial, where the highest form is EMPATHY.
The significance of EQ skills in the workplace is shown by the recruitment company Robert Half, which recently found out through research that recruiters usually look for EQ skills in about 88 per cent of job applications, including managers and executive directors.
According to D. Goleman (2018)2, even big corporate agencies also look for EQ skills in their top management staff, since at the top most of the enrolled people have high IQ skills, but what will really make them stand out from the crowd is their EQ skills.
Truly, if managers and leaders are not only aware of the emotions of their co-workers, but also do their best in finding a solution for them, be it in the form of sick leave or maternity leave, raising the wages of a well-performing employee, or providing benefits for them in the form of an advantage, reward, or even an award, etc.
In this connection, it is worth mentioning the utmost importance of paying attention to the mental health of co-workers and ensuring a healthy working atmosphere for them. In fact, this has always been an important issue, yet in the times of COVID-19 and the post-pandemic period, when people still have doubts and concerns about their future, it is more important than ever to allow them to feel secure.
Once, one of my colleagues fell sick and I knew for sure that she wanted a big birthday party. So, knowing exactly her emotions and her despair about not being able to organise the party of her dreams, I organised it on my own for her, in spite of being overloaded with work. Why did I do this? Simple. I knew how she felt, I shared her feelings on both the rational and emotional levels, and, on the compassion level, I went further, taking steps towards helping her to have her wish come true, which strengthened our bond and made our subsequent cooperation much more enjoyable and even more fruitful.
Other instances of showing empathy include exhibiting grief at funerals and showing to our interactants that we share their sadness and sometimes even despair. In a war situation, it would mean showing empathy towards the ones affected by its consequences, etc. This does not mean that empathy only includes sharing negative emotions, but also positive ones; for example, sharing happiness at birthdays, baby showers, housewarming parties, and/or weddings, etc. This can be done not only with our friends, but also our colleagues, which will enhance our emotional connections, with consequent benefits to the overall labour output.
In fact, my experience has shown me that when colleagues feel secure and cherished on the emotional level, they usually tend to do more than expected, to perform better.
It is also noteworthy that it is not only leaders who need to be empathetic, but also the other employees. For this very reason, one effective piece of advice can be given.
Leaders don’t have to be experts in emotional mental health in order to demonstrate that they care and are paying attention to the emotions and feelings of their co-workers. It is sometimes even enough to check in, to ask questions, to congratulate employees on their birthdays, to give positive feedback, to remember the names of their co-workers, etc., as Henry Ford did.4
This said, it goes without saying that LEADERSHIP is by no means an easy-peasy task. Therefore, being aware of and applying EQ skills, especially empathetic skills, not only with your near and dear ones, but also at the workplace, can be a great asset for any leader, who in supporting their co-workers on the emotional level as well, will eventually stand a better chance of inspiring them to achieve more and hence bring success to the entire team as a whole entity.
So, empathy can truly be a great contributor to success in both our private and business lives, where both our personal relationships and the organisational culture will be raised to a brand-new level, bringing with it a number of unbelievably great benefits to the whole company. Moreover, the leader, as a thought and motivation starter and inspiration ignition source, will themselves taste the fruits of their excellent leadership skills.
As John C. Maxwell rightly said, “A true leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” Hence, levels of performance depend in large part on the leaders.
About the Author
Dr. Anna Rostomyan is an assistant professor of English, certified EQ coach, internationally recognised author, constant contributor to the European Business Review (EBR) and lecturer at the Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI). She defended her PhD excellently in collaboration with the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and Yerevan State University (Armenia). She is the author of five books and 30 publications worldwide, with about 1,000 readers of around 100 nationalities, on communication, management, and emotion matters.
Contact email : [email protected]
- Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it matters more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
- Goleman, Daniel (2018). “Strategies to Become more Emotionally Intelligent”. WOBI Talk. Accessed on 5 October 2022.
- Kippenberger, T. (2002). Leadership Styles. Oxford: Capstone Publishing.
- Rostomyan, Anna (2020). Your Guide to Becoming a Successful Leader. Hamburg: Tredition.
- Rostomyan, Anna (2022a). “Emotional Intelligence as an Essential Soft Skill for Success”. Proceedings of the First International Scientific and Practical Internet Conference “Importance of Soft Skills for Life and Scientific Success”, Dnipro, Ukraine.
- Rostomyan, Anna (2022b). “The Ultimate Force of Emotions in Our Lives: A Linguo-Cognitive Analysis of Verbal and Non-Verbal Expressions of Emotions” (in English), (dissertation). Dȕren: Shaker Verlag.
- Rostomyan, Anna (2022c). Emotional Intelligence as a Keystone towards Success. Moldova: Generis Publishing
What a great piece of article!