• 4 min read

Future Leaders Must Lead with Empathy to Stay Relevant

Without empathy as part of company culture and policy, companies risk becoming obsolete.

The importance of empathy in organizations can no longer be an afterthought. Not only does the culture of empathy extend to employees, but also to consumers. The way an organization responds to employee wellness, ethical practices, and its stance on social issues can and most likely will dictate their success in the future.

“Customer buying patterns are changing,” according to Matthew Wagner, an SVP and General Manager – EMEA at Simplify. “With so much data in our hands, we can make buying decisions off of companies who invest in getting to zero carbon emissions, ensure LGBTQ inclusion, and are making tangible strides to close the gender leadership and pay gap, and more.” 

A recent report from Mercer shows that empathy leads to a more energized workforce. With a new, more well-rounded focus on how to lead, organizations now have to take a lot more into account for the success of a business.  

Increased consumer focus on ethics

Mercer found that executive interest in ethical products have risen from 25 percent in 2018 to 34 percent in 2020. And according to HubSpot, 70 percent of the Twitter users they surveyed said they expected a response from companies they tweeted. With the rising focus on social justice and environmental initiatives, executives now need to pay close attention to what their customers are saying if they want to hold onto their business.  

The same thing is true for employees. “Companies investing in purpose-led initiatives now will win out on attracting talent and customers,” says Wagner.

How to lead with empathy

For an organization to lead with empathy its necessary for it to be tuned in to the experience of it’s employees. It involves continuously making changes and initiatives to create more meaningful work for the employees while also simplifying and automating repetitive tasks. Empathetic organizations focus on maintaining a healthy environment and promote work-life balance.

Mercer’s report found that 1 in 2 employees feel at risk of burnout this year, with 30 percent reporting it’s from lack of a reward for their effort and 29 percent say it’s because of their workload.

It’s one thing to present a brand as ethical based on their products, carbon emissions, and other customer-facing issues. But executives need to look deeper into the well-being of their leaders and employees. Only 29 percent of HR leadership have health and wellness strategies in place, according to Mercer. Physical and mental health play a significant role in employee happiness. Workers are now taking health management into a much higher account when applying for jobs. And it will only keep becoming more important in the years to come.

“We’ve gone through the biggest forced evolution of work the world has ever witnessed. There’s no ‘new normal,’” says Leslee Kress, the Director of Implementation at Simplify. “Leadership absolutely must operate from the stance that everyone is doing the best they can to adjust and there is a need to accommodate that to the best of our collective ability.”

The multi-stakeholder model

Organizations are now moving to a multi-stakeholder model. In 2019, the American Business Roundtable redefined organizational focus from shareholders to multi-stakeholders. Stakeholders include customers, employees, suppliers and communities as well as shareholders. The 50 percent of executives intend to align their business practices with the multi-stakeholder model in the next few years, according to Mercer.

Executives need to look at all sides of their business in order to lead with empathy. The multi-stakeholder model shows us that employees and consumers are just as important as shareholders for a successful business. Viewing customers, employees, and the community through the lens of empathy will lead to better relationships and improved quality of work.

“Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, to honor the space needed to support an ever-changing way of doing things is admittedly not easy – however, the pay-off is exponential,” adds Kress.

Erica Tomlin

Erica Tomlin

Erica Tomlin


Erica Tomlin is a writer for the US Tech group. An experienced technology marketer, she began her career in the entertainments industry before transitioning across to commercial video production. Today, she is a Program Manager for US Tech Solutions and works as part of the marketing team to bring personality and entertainment to brand communications. Her interests include Women in IT, Diversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace, and the Future of Work. She can be reached via LinkedIn.