Why the Core Skill for Leading For Innovation is Empathy

Why the Core Skill for Leading For Innovation is Empathy

Why the Core Skill for Leading For Innovation is Empathy

  • Posted by Cris Beswick
  • On 22/05/2023
As a leader in an organisation that wants to drive innovation, it is crucial to have the ability to understand and relate to your people. Empathy is essential for creating effective cultures that allow organisations to thrive in increasingly competitive environments. Allowing leaders to develop empathy-based relationships can make all the difference towards creativity, innovation, and motivated employees willing to go above and beyond the status quo. In this article, we’ll explore precisely how key leadership skills associated with Empathy can be a powerful tool to aid organisations that strive for success through innovation and why research has shown that Empathy is an essential leadership skill.

What is Empathy, and Why Is It Necessary for Leading FOR Innovation

Even if innovation isn’t on the strategic agenda, Empathy is a crucial trait that every successful leader must possess. It’s the ability to see and understand things from another person’s perspective, including their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Leaders who show Empathy can build stronger relationships with their people, connect better with customers, and create products that solve genuine problems. Empathy also allows leaders to anticipate roadblocks, understand the needs of their employees, and adjust their approach accordingly.


By empathising with their team, leaders can inspire creativity, promote collaboration, and cultivate a culture of trust. It’s not just a soft skill; Empathy is necessary for leaders who want to drive innovation, create meaningful change, and make a positive impact on the world.

The Benefits of Empathy to Innovative Organisations

Empathy is not just a human virtue; it has become an indispensable asset in innovative organisations worldwide. Empathy drives creativity, collaboration, and customer satisfaction. A workplace culture that values and prioritises Empathy encourages employees to understand and connect with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders, fostering an environment where innovative ideas are generated, nurtured, and brought to fruition. Moreover, empathetic leaders build trust through positive relationships and stronger organisational cultures. They inspire people and create an inclusive work environment where all employees feel heard and valued. In conclusion, Empathy is a critical factor to consider in building a culture of innovation and driving results.

Those results can contribute to authentic experiences for individuals and teams, and research has shown the significance of solid leadership empathy’s effect across an organisation.

  • 61% of employees report that empathic leaders motivate them to innovate, compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders. [2]
  • 76% of people who experienced Empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged, compared with only 32% who experienced less Empathy. [2]
  • 57% of white women and 62% of women of colour said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies. [2]
  • 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% with less empathetic leadership. [2]
  • When people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they could navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family, and work obligations. [2]

The last point is a clear challenge as organisations move into a more hybrid way of working yet still require innovation.

How to Develop Empathy as a Leader

As a leader, Empathy is a critical trait that should be developed and cultivated. Empathy enables leaders to connect with their people personally and understand their unique challenges. To develop Empathy as a leader, it is essential to actively listen to your people, put yourself in their shoes, and seek to understand their perspective. Additionally, showing genuine care and concern helps build trust, understanding and collaboration. Remember, while technical skills are essential in any leadership role, Empathy sets exceptional leaders apart. Let’s look at a unique relationship where Empathy is crucial—the relationship between senior leaders and middle managers.

In a recent article called ‘Innovation is a Team Sport’ [3], I outlined how we use particular language to differentiate the role of leaders and managers in pursuing innovation when we work with clients on this. The part of leaders is to ‘OWN’ the innovation agenda and to put everything in place that innovation requires. In contrast, the role of managers is to ‘DRIVE’ the innovation agenda, to use everything put in place to bring innovation alive on a day-to-day basis. It’s an approach we call Own-Drive-Contribute, or ODC for short. [4]

In using the framework, you need to unpack and thoroughly answer the following questions:

  • What does ‘OWNING’ the innovation agenda look and feel like as a leader?
  • What do I need to commit to as a leader to ‘OWN’ the innovation agenda?
  • As a leader, what are my expectations of managers’ DRIVING’ the innovation agenda?
  • What does ‘DRIVING’ the innovation agenda look and feel like as a manager?
  • What do I need to commit to as a manager to ‘DRIVE’ the innovation agenda?
  • As a manager, what are my expectations of leaders’ OWNING’ the innovation agenda?

No, let’s highlight a particular component. For leaders to OWN the innovation agenda, they need to fully understand what it feels like to be challenged with ‘DRIVING’ that agenda and bringing it alive daily in the organisation’s middle. Unless leaders genuinely know what life is like for middle managers, it’s difficult and, in some cases, impossible for them to build an environment where middle managers can take charge of driving growth through innovation. It’s one of the most common problems we see in organisations worldwide.

Setting the Tone for an Innovative Culture with Empathy

Creating an innovation-led culture in the workplace is critical to the success of any organisation. And to achieve this, Empathy is a must-have skill. Setting the tone for such a culture requires a deep understanding and respect for employees’ diverse perspectives. It’s about creating an environment where ideas can flourish and individuals feel encouraged to come forward and share their thoughts. As a leader, you are responsible for fostering an empathetic workplace by leading by example, actively listening, inspiring creativity and innovation, and building community. Setting the right tone can create a culture where everyone feels valued and heard, leading to increased innovation capability.

How to Foster Collaboration and Creativity within an Organisation with Empathy

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, fostering collaboration and creativity within an organisation has become more critical than ever. Thus, it requires a deep understanding of people’s values, goals, and motivations and the ability to empathise with their needs and concerns. By creating an environment where Empathy is at the forefront, you can leverage the power of diversity and develop a culture of transparency and mutual respect, leading to increased creativity, productivity, and innovation. Empathy allows leaders better to understand their teams’ unique strengths and skills and create opportunities that enable them to thrive. By promoting collaboration and creativity with Empathy, organisations can stay competitive and adapt to the changing needs of their customers.

Utilising Technology to Enhance the Role of Empathy in Leadership and Innovation

Leaders must empathise with their team members and foster an innovative environment to succeed in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving business world. Advancements in technology have brought about new opportunities to enhance Empathy in leadership and innovation. By utilising tools such as virtual reality training simulations and online communication platforms, leaders can better understand and connect with their employees’ experiences. Incorporating collaborative software and data analytics can promote innovation and streamline decision-making processes. As technology advances, leaders must stay informed and adapt to foster a culture of Empathy and innovation within their organisations.

To conclude, at its core, Empathy is essential for leaders in organisations that want to drive innovation. It provides a secure platform for collaboration, open-mindedness, and creativity across all levels of the organisation. A compassionate leader with a comprehensive view of their team’s dynamics can create an environment that produces unparalleled ideas. And outstanding ideas are the core ingredient for game-changing innovation.


[1] Thepresentpsychologyst
[2] Forbes: Tracy Brower, Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research
[3] https://weareoutcome.co/blog/why-mutual-obligation-is-the-key-to-leading-for-innovation/
[4] https://weareoutcome.co/leading-for-innovation/