The New Must-Have Skill for Managers: Empathy

Leadership after COVID demands a new approach — here’s how to manage with empathy.

Management & leadership is changing. Have you noticed? Check out this article from Fast Company on the “rare breed” of managers who are “original.” The article came to me from my crack social media team at Social Burro as we were talking about the changes I’m seeing with clients. 

Take, for example, the new class at LeadershipITE (a leadership program run by the Institute of Transportation Engineers where I am honored to be the lead developer and trainer). LeadershipITE participants like most of my clients are technical professionals, engineers like me, who move into management and must learn an entirely new set of skills. Typically, we technical professionals, like engineers, have natural attributes like these:

What are the natural attributes of technical professionals?

They are detailed, specific, accurate in their communication preferences and what the data and analysis up front. 

But not this class. They are distributed across all quadrants. When asked the attributes of good managers here’s what they said: 

What are the attributes of good managers or leaders?

In fact, as we talked about “good” managers, the most common word was “empathy.” When I was a young engineer there was NEVER talk about empathy. In fact, I was taught “there’s no place for feelings at work.” Work was head down; get the job done. 

Today we’re in a different world. I see a growing desire for a human workplace, even in hard core disciplines like engineering. Much has been written about the great resignation and the desire for a better quality of life. Perhaps it’s time for us all to think about empathy and how we demonstrate it at work. 

What does empathy look like to you? What behaviors would you describe as empathetic? Do you need to hone your empathy muscle? If so, I have empathy for you as I (and likely many of us) are in the same boat. It’s time to get out of the get-it-done-at-all-costs mindset and realize there is a human behind the task. A little understanding goes a long way. That’s why empathy is the new must-have skill for managers. 

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