Wisdom Fish often ask the groups we work with what qualities they think are required of a good leader. Of course, there are all sorts of answers – vision, creativity, integrity, consistency, the ability to inspire others.
But one that’s always close to the top of our list - along with self-awareness - is empathy.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience and perspective – it’s the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and imagine how they would feel.
Why is empathy essential in a leadership role?
In a leadership role empathy is essential if we want to bring people with us. Empathy allows us to think about and recognise the impact of our decisions and actions – whether that’s on our team, on our donors or on the sector as a whole. It allows us to connect to our team and build their trust and loyalty. It enables us to think about our target audience and how they are best reached and communicated to.
Empathy is not a nice to have in fundraising. It’s business critical.
It’s as much at the heart of the fundraising sector’s reputation as – you may gasp, but it’s true – GDPR. The consequences of no empathy are huge. What would the work being done on the donor journey and experience look like without empathy? Would the behaviour at the men-only President’s Club Charity Dinner have happened if there had been a little more empathy in the room – or even if it had been present in the premise and planning of the event? Consider too what face-to-face fundraising conversations would look like without empathy. With a bit more empathy, perhaps we can also attract a more diverse group of people to the sector by understanding and appreciating their experiences a bit more.
But is empathy something we’re born with or can it be learnt?
Certainly, empathy is an innate human trait but as with all human traits there are some of us that are strong at it and some of us that are in need of improvement.
Recognising our own relationship with empathy is a good starting point because then we’ll start to get a sense of when we need to check in on ourselves – when we need to think more about the consequences of our decisions and actions and the impact they have on other people.