Google has perfected the use of data to help illuminate people dynamics. It tried to prove managers don't matter and instead found 10 traits of the very best ones. It spent two years studying 180 teams to discern what makes the most effective teams.
One of Google's variables for measuring team effectiveness centers on emotional intelligence and whether or not the leader is interested in other people's problems. To discern and measure that, Google uses the 16-question Toronto Empathy Questionnaire.
I've grouped the 16 yes-or-no questions--which are actually framed as statements--into my own categorizations:
Being tuned into others emotions
1. I can tell when others are sad even when they do not say anything.
2. I find that I am "in tune" with other people's moods.
3. I am not really interested in how other people feel.
Feeling/having interest in others pain
4. Other people's misfortunes do not disturb me a great deal.
5. I have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.
6. When a friend starts to talk about his/her problems, I try to steer the conversation towards something else.
7. I do not feel sympathy for people who cause their own serious illnesses.
8. I become irritated when someone cries.
9. When I see someone being treated unfairly, I do not feel very much pity for them.
10. It upsets me to see someone being treated disrespectfully.
11. When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards him/her.
Getting caught up in others joy
12. When someone else is feeling excited, I tend to get excited too.
13. I remain unaffected when someone close to me is happy.
14. I find it silly for people to cry out of happiness.
15. I enjoy making other people feel better.
16. I get a strong urge to help when I see someone who is upset.
The core of being an empathetic leader is the ability to be tuned into the emotions, moods, and feelings of others. It's not a warm and fuzzy skill, it's a hard skill that's not hard to get right--if you care about your co-workers. It's what human beings, and great leaders, do.
I don't do everything right as a leader, but I'm undeniably empathetic--and I've found it helps me connect, bond, earn trust, and get the best out of others. People don't care about doing their very best for you if they don't know you care about them as a person and about what they're thinking and feeling.
Sharing in the feeling of another's pain is also a part of being an empathetic leader. Showing sympathy, compassion, and concern as a leader shows that you're human and that you're emotionally invested in those around you. It makes employees want to invest right back, in their jobs and the people they do the job with.
Empathy isn't all about co-experiencing misery. It's also about sharing in someone's joy. It's a selfless form of leadership because you're directly trading in jealously for genuine appreciation of someone's happiness.
And when you're happy for someone else's success, it creates trust as they become more convinced you'll work hard to help them achieve it. I always made it a point to join in my employees' promotion celebrations or any other personal celebration of theirs. I did it because I wanted to share in their joy, but I was also frequently told that the effort was noticed by all employees--and made them feel supported.
Empathetic leaders also take action on their ability to feel what others are feeling. They want to help when someone is suffering and want to create scenarios where others can experience joy. The best leaders I've experienced made their empathy an active, not passive emotion.
The bottom line is that the best leaders show empathy on the front lines. So draw a line in the sand and get to work on being able to answer the questions above in the right way.