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Harness empathy to win allies

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

What’s the single most important skill that a leader needs to run a big organization? Empathy.

At least that’s what Jeremy Darroch thinks. He’s the CEO of Sky, a London-based satellite broadcasting and media company.

Darroch, 53, views empathy as a vital business tool. The ability to step into others’ shoes and see the situation from their perspective gives him a better sense of how to conduct himself. He can thus adjust his speaking and listening to fit their outlook.

He rejects the traditional notion of a CEO sitting in a corner office and calling all the shots. Instead, he finds that leadership requires gaining buy-in from people. And that involves collaborative conversations where he seeks to understand employees’ ideas and opinions before he proposes his plans.

By harnessing empathy, Darroch says that he can “frame opportunity and challenge in the right way.” Employees bring more enthusiasm and commitment to the job if they feel that their leader appreciates their concerns and welcomes their feedback.

To tap the power of empathy, Darroch has launched a one-year leadership development program for Sky’s senior managers. Through a series of training sessions, they are learning how to listen better and strengthen their connections with team members.

Empathetic behavior flows from self-awareness. Darroch knows that he needs to model how he wants his managers to act.

“How I act, my mental state, my level of optimism, how I deal with stress and challenge, is fundamentally important to people,” he says. “It starts with me.”

— Adapted from “Empathy is the top leadership skill, says Sky CEO,” Robert Jeffery, www.cipd.co.uk.

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