Empathy – The Leadership Power Skill in the Post COVID-19 Workplace

by Martin Lanik

COVID-19 has accelerated the fourth industrial revolution, and the future of work has arrived! All predictions, such as increased telecommuting, higher reliance on technology, and flexible work arrangements, are not only coming true but their adoption is accelerating. Once employees embrace their new, bedroom-to-Zoom commutes and organizations realize the increased productivity and cost savings, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to shove the genie back in the bottle. So the post COVID-19 workplace will be the future of work.

With the heightened level of global economic uncertainty, rapidly accelerated workplace automation and restructuring, close confrontation with illness and death, and deprivation of human contact from months of social distancing, the one thing that everyone will crave is empathy — that uniquely human experience of understanding and sharing another’s state, feelings and thoughts. So I believe that empathy is the post COVID-19 workplace power skill.

Based on our research for my book, The Leader Habit, we discovered the specific behaviors that successful business leaders practice when showing empathy. For example, they frequently use caring phrases, such as “it’s important to me that we resolve your concerns,” or “I want to make sure that your needs are met.”

Effective leaders also make it a point to acknowledge and name emotions to let others know that they are attentive to them and care about their well-being. They often call out emotions they observe by saying, “You seemed [happy/sad/worried/disappointed] and I wonder if you’d like to talk about it.” Helping others label their emotions not only shows our caring for them, but it allows them to process their own emotions deeper and better cope with uncertainty.

Those who will be able to excel at empathy in the post COVID-19 workplace will be quicker to build trust and relationships even virtually. If leaders’ colleagues and customers know their leaders care about them, they will reciprocate and care about those leaders. This will create a working dynamic of mutual loyalty and dedication, and it will inspire both sides to put in extra effort to achieve ambitious goals, pivot quickly when necessary, and adapt to the ever-changing economic landscape. Those who will lead with empathy will eventually win.


Martin Lanik is the author of the international bestseller The Leader Habit. He serves as CEO of Pinsight, a Denver-based consulting firm that delivers virtual leadership solutions that give companies the unbiased insights they need to make the most important talent decisions: who they hire, develop, and promote. Lanik is also the co-author of the research report “Repairing the Broken Rung: Overcoming Bias in the Leadership Pipeline.”

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