Is it Possible to Lead a Business Without Empathy?

James Kelly

CEO and Co-Founder of Corndel


It wasn’t so long ago that autocratic management styles prevailed. The ideology that guilt and fear ‘motivated’ employees, omnipresent managers watched for mistakes and decisions were made by leaders without consulting their staff. The result was typically a lack of innovation and many downtrodden and dissatisfied employees. It seems amazing that businesses could function in such a manner, even a couple of decades ago.


Autocratic management seems particularly brutal and archaic at the moment. We now understand a lot more about organisational behaviour and acknowledge the management styles likely to succeed involve democracy, coaching, vision and above all, empathy. The latter is fundamental because our workforce faces a set of exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis. Immense uncertainty prevails and tough personal finance decisions are having to be made. Many of us are reflecting on our life’s priorities.


As we move into a longer-term shift into remote and hybrid working practices become more embedded and emerging technologies, such as AI tools, becoming part of our workplace life, human skills such as empathy are becoming - and will continue to become - even more important.


Corndel’s recently-published Workplace Training Report revealed that 71% of HR leaders have seen the cost of living crisis increasing anxiety and stress among their teams and 27% feel that more staff than usual are asking for salary increases. It’s clear that employees need to be treated with care and understanding.


Businesses should also acknowledge that the recruitment market continues to be difficult and vacancies remain at above pre-pandemic levels. Employees are unwilling to stick around in environments which don’t support, nurture and help them through these difficult times. They know that they hold the cards in a hugely candidate driven market with record numbers of job vacancies caused by a huge skills shortage.


It’s heartening that many businesses now realise that nurturing empathetic leaders is more valuable than ever before. Such leaders excel in hiring and evaluation. They increase productivity and foster long-term relationships which improve retention. They care about their team’s lives both inside and outside the office, recognising that the two are seamlessly interlinked.


The key skills that empathetic managers possess are human in their nature. They can actively listen. They can lead and inspire their team to go on a journey with them. They constantly observe and take the time to walk around in the shoes of the people they work with.


True empathetic leaders understand the motivations for behaviour. They can even predict the stresses and strains their team might be feeling and help mitigate these effects. Such leaders will use the tools they have available to their full advantage. They might thoughtfully redistribute workloads, improve the office environment or change their own behaviour.


So, if you feel your business is lacking this sort of talent, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to create empathy within the existing leaders that you have. The answer is an emphatic yes. And the journey begins with learning and development.


About Corndel

Corndel offers industry-leading development programmes in leadership and management which contain crucial employee well-being and mental health components. Our courses bolster the human skills of managers, giving them the tools to support, understand and anticipate the holistic needs of the people they work with. Taking the valuable decision to invest in upskilling managers with human skills will send a signal to your entire organisation that you are a caring employer who is committed to developing an empathetic culture.


The harsh reality is that businesses will not retain their valuable employees without a culture of employee care and leaders who are empathetic in their daily working lives. The results of bringing additional human skills to management teams will be fruitful. Organisations with empathetic leaders have high productivity, motivated staff and a loyal workforce who will willingly accompany your business every step of the way as it progresses.