Why Empathy and Decency Are Needed More Than Ever

Over the past few months, we’ve seen countless articles written on what makes a good leader. There is a clear shift taking place as leaders recognize they need to rise up and demonstrate that they care about their teams. The ability to do this effectively will be a critical differentiator in whether a company is able to weather this storm and emerge stronger.

As discussed in the article, “Leadership in the Time of Covid-19: What are We Learning?”, teams look to their leaders for reassurance during times of uncertainty. How we model our values has the potential to be remembered far beyond any branding strategy or marketing campaign. Leading with empathy and decency are needed more now than ever before.

Start with empathy

Simply put, empathy is being able to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s position. Demonstrating empathy in the corporate world had already become a hot topic before Covid-19 disrupted the workforce. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc, cautioned graduates in a 2017 MIT commencement address, “There will be times when your resolve to serve humanity will be tested. Be prepared. People will try to convince you that you should keep your empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.”[1]

Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has spoken openly about the importance of empathic leadership and being compassionate to everyone. A 2019 Inc. article referenced her philosophy on empathy in that “when you show empathy and kindness it allows employees to trust you and be vulnerable. And that’s what drives breakthrough ideas and beyond-the-call-of-duty performance.[2] If Cook and Gates’ message on empathy was relevant pre-pandemic, it has only increased in its importance. While empathy will not be a cure-all for this challenging situation, by understanding how others feel, we can begin to change our team’s experience of it. However, in order for an organization to come out stronger and more cohesive than before the crisis, a company will need to take empathy a step further.

Beyond empathy: why acting with decency is so important

Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (from which Melissa Gates and Tim Cook graduated) has championed the concept of the “decency quotient (DQ).” Being intentional about decency takes empathy a step further. According to Boulding, “A DQ implies a person has not only empathy for employees and colleagues but also the genuine desire to care for them. DQ means wanting something positive for everyone in the workplace and ensuring everyone feels respected and valued.”[3]Boulding explains that having emotional awareness and empathy don’t necessarily lead to acting with integrity. The ability to understand how people are feeling could be manipulated for self-interest.

Today’s leaders require what Boulding refers to as the “triple threat leadership”. Three common factors define triple threat leaders:

Intelligence (IQ) + Emotional Intelligence (EQ) + Decency Quotient (DQ).

More specifically,

  • IQ – We all know that businesses need competent leaders, who understand what it takes to lead a successful company today.
  • EQ – Today, EQ is a concept most leaders are familiar with. It refers to being aware of both our own and others’ emotions. Using EQ, a leader can understand how people are feeling and make a decision based on that information. However, as previously mentioned, EQ doesn’t mean a leader’s actions take into account what is best for others.
  • DQ – DQ indicates that a leader has the genuine desire to do the right thing for others. According to Boulding, “DQ is evident in a manager’s daily interactions with others, as well as in setting goals for the company that meet fiscal objectives and improve lives”.[4]

DQ as a competitive advantage

It goes without saying that we need leaders to think rationally and leverage their full cognitive capacity. We also need leaders who are deeply connected to how their teams are feeling. But when a leader can utilize IQ and EQ and demonstrate a commitment to acting with decency it can be an essential factor in a successful business strategy.

Employees trust leaders when they know they have their best interests at heart. Being intentional about decency will foster loyalty, engagement, collaboration and innovation.

Call to action

Covid-19 has been a significant disruptor to the way most companies do business. It’s vital we acknowledge the shift in what’s required to be successful today. Indeed, how we treat our employees now and the culture we choose to foster will be remembered far longer than a branding strategy or any marketing campaign. More importantly, however, in our current environment, business can be a transformative force for good. As leaders, we have a responsibility to lead with empathy and be intentional about decency.

[1] https://qz.com/1002570/watch-live-apple-ceo-tim-cook-delivers-mits-2017-commencement-speech/
[2] https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/melinda-gates-just-said-all-great-leaders-share-this-1-surprising-thing.html
[3] https://hbr.org/2019/07/for-leaders-decency-is-just-as-important-as-intelligence
[4] https://www.dukece.com/insights/why-decency-in-leadership-is-a-competitive-advantage/
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About the Author

David Postill

A visionary executive fueled by purpose, David Postill has an impressive history of surpassing business goals, and realizing innovation and growth objectives that set industry standards for excellence.

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