Empathy & Expertise: Best Practices for Senior Leaders

Think of your idea of the stereotypical senior leader. Now think of senior leaders you’ve encountered throughout your career. If you’re like me, you are picturing strong, well-respected figureheads who often make decisions from a distance and are mainly concerned with making sure their organization or unit runs like a well-oiled machine. Now, imagine the leadership stereotypes your clients might have. Should those stereotypes guide their aspirations as leaders? Are there more informed approaches to helping our clients become effective senior leaders?

While senior leader stereotypes and anecdotal evidence may be informative, they tell us little about what really works. When it comes to coaching leaders, empirical evidence is essential. As luck would have it, we recently conducted a study of the behaviors that differentiate the most effective senior leaders. Given some of my preconceived notions, two findings stood out. First, this research revealed a more human, less distant image. It turns out that the most effective senior leaders demonstrate higher levels of empathy and are more likely to resist the temptation to isolate themselves from others in the organization than their less effective counterparts. Second, the research showed that effective senior leaders continue to identify with their field of expertise and actively grow their knowledge in those areas. Rather than focusing on their management role, effective senior leaders are able to find a balance between business and subject matter expertise. These new findings describe a more complex approach to senior leadership than many of us envision, suggesting that there are few areas where senior leaders do not need to acquire some level of know-how.

Now that I have shared what I found to be the most surprising findings from this recent study, I invite you to read the full report. Let me know what strikes you as interesting. How will this impact your coaching practice?


About the author

Maria is Head of Research at MRG. She loves a challenge and often gets a little too excited about running new studies. She finds peace and balance by cooking (as long as her husband is doing the cleaning) or being anywhere near the ocean.

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