How to be an empathetic AND effective leader?

by Gertraud Eregger in — November 2023
Empathetic and effective leadership can not only coexist but also complement each other in a powerful way. This combination is crucial for building strong relationships, fostering a positive work environment, and achieving long-term success.
Talentor International Blog 2023 Leadership Leaders Program Bethel

The Leaders4Tomorrow Program had the honor to welcome Bethel Nwaneri as one of our keynote speakers. Bethel Nwaneri is an HR Executive and Leadership Coach and has been building the HR future of a major multinational in Europe, Middle East, Africa and the United States for the last decades.

Bethel shared insights about her own global career with the talents from all across the world, and gave real leadership concepts from her experience into the two worlds: to be empathetic and effective at the same time which often feel like they are on opposite ends.

In her workshop-style keynote session, we explored the balance leadership requires, focusing on both the strategic and human elements that are essential for leadership excellence.

Balancing Strategy and Humanity

Effective leaders need to be skilled in both the strategic and human aspects of leadership. Here are some key skills and areas to focus on:

  • Communication: Strong communication skills are at the heart of empathetic leadership. Leaders must convey their vision and goals clearly while also listening to the needs and concerns of their team, clients, and candidates.
  • Empathy: Empathy is the cornerstone of empathetic leadership. It involves understanding and connecting with the emotions, perspectives, and needs of others. Empathetic leaders create a supportive and inclusive environment.
  • Decision-Making: Effective leaders make informed decisions that align with their organization's goals and values. They also consider the impact of their decisions on individuals and teams, striving for fairness and equity.
  • Conflict Resolution: Leaders should be adept at resolving conflicts and fostering a positive team dynamic. Empathy is crucial when dealing with interpersonal issues, as it helps in finding mutually beneficial solutions.
  • Adaptability: Leadership often requires flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Being open to new ideas and approaches is key to effective leadership.
  • Mentorship and Coaching: Great leaders invest in the growth and development of their team members. Providing mentorship and coaching helps individuals reach their potential, benefiting both the team and the organization.

Breaking Bias on Soft and Hard Skills

Leadership is a blend of soft skills (e.g., empathy, communication, and adaptability) and hard skills (e.g., strategic thinking, decision-making, structure). Both are essential, and one should not be favored over the other. Soft skills enable you to connect with people on a human level, while hard skills help you make informed decisions and set a strategic direction.

Inspiration to Work on Your Leadership Skills

Bethel shared one concept on how leaders build up their bank account of trust by every single action and word.

‘’You may either get credits or debits on your account of trust. How did you show up today? Did your actions and words as a leader add to your debit or your credit side?’’

Bethel Nwaneri

A simple, and yet powerful concept to have in mind – most relevant for especially bold and challenging conversations that we may face at work or in private life.

3 Leadership Questions to Bethel

  1. What key elements and milestones in your career had shaped you to become the leader you are today?

    My diverse background as a global nomad and your experiences living in various countries have undoubtedly provided me with a unique perspective and a valuable set of skills as a leader. This multicultural heritage has become a key success factor in my ability to lead teams composed of members from all around the world. This capacity to challenge different solutions can have a profound impact on how teams make decisions, communicate, and relate to each other globally.

    You've highlighted a common challenge in the world of leadership – the pressure and fast-paced nature of business can sometimes make it difficult to balance empathy with the need to achieve key performance indicators (KPIs) and meet business goals. In these moments, the temptation to prioritize numbers and deadlines over human connection can erode trust within your team and with your colleagues or clients.

  2. What advice would you give a leader, when we are challenged on how to be empathetic and effective at the same time?

    Many times, it is the hectic and extreme pressure that make it almost impossible to show up with empathy while also being smart on business decisions and chasing numbers. It is then, when we put KPIs first, when we call although we know that the team member is sick, when we do not take time to connect and really understand what is going on. And those moments erode trust from our relationships. As mentioned earlier, those moments when we miss connection and choose to push business, are definitely found on the debit side of our trust bank account. When we take an even 10 minutes to connect first, seek to understand and remind how far we’ve come in terms of numbers and team spirit, THEN we can got to the results pushing side of work. Empathy builds the base for true effectiveness. This is what leads to discretionary effort!

  3. What do you see as the forgotten and most important leadership skill of today?

    Deep listening and being really present, this creates space for people. No phone messages activated. No calls to be taken. No LinkedIn scrolling. The ability to have a deep and meaningful conversation, to spark inspiration and have the other person feel seen and heard is the mastery level of leadership. And this does not come with age or seniority…it comes with the ability to lead yourself, and mostly also when we experience the same leadership from our own bosses. Start by asking yourself, who am I being during each interaction?

Bethel Nwaneri is a global HR Executive. As a leadership and executive coach, she coaches leaders on how to master leadership challenges on a daily base combining empathy and effectiveness. She’s been a keynote speaker to Talentor’s Leaders4Tomorrow program – a leadership program for talents in the recruiting industry-leading teams and projects in one of the most challenging times in the industry now.