• Empathy is the top leadership skill, says Sky CEO

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  • 23 Mar 2015
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EQ Summit hears emotional intelligence can ‘supercharge’ businesses

Empathy has overtaken more traditional business skills to become the most important requirement for leadership success, according to Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch.

Speaking at the EQ Summit in London – a day-long exploration of the importance of emotional intelligence in business – Darroch said: “A lot of the old skills of leadership aren’t fit for the future. The idea that I can sit in the corner office and call the shots is long gone. Empathy is now the single most important skill when you get to the top of an organisation. It means you can frame opportunity and challenge in the right way.”

Darroch, who took over as the broadcaster’s senior executive in 2007, said emotional intelligence offers the opportunity to “supercharge our capabilities” and unlock large amounts of discretionary effort. He said all Sky’s senior leaders were undergoing a year-long development programme centred around emotional intelligence, as the business moved away from “functional, repetitive training that is better delivered on the job” towards leadership skills that might be seen by some as “softer”.

“It starts with me,” added Darroch. “When you’re at the top you realise how vital you are to people. How I act, my mental state, my level of optimism, how I deal with stress and challenge, is fundamentally important to people. [The programme] increases our leaders’ self-awareness, their sense of self-liking and self-confidence, and it teaches them to apply it to their teams… people who go on it are universally telling us we’re doing the right thing here.”

Other speakers at the summit included business author and former CIPD annual conference keynote speaker Dan Pink, who explored some of the counter-intuitive thinking we often employ around reward and motivation. Pink said small “progress rituals” could help bond employees to a business and improve performance, in the same way a daily application of mindfulness helped some people become more attuned to their physiology.

He cited managers who held weekly one-on-ones with staff, and companies that sent employees daily emails asking them to reflect on what they had achieved that day. Studies suggested that as well as being positive engagement tools, such interactions were also able to reduce the prevalence of sickness.

Attendees were asked to consider how to convince their organisations to take emotional intelligence seriously. It is important to couch such discussions in business terms, said psychologist Dr Martyn Newman, author of Emotional Capitalists: “If you are going to suggest to someone they can benefit from emotional intelligence, you have to enter their world. Do you understand their challenges? Can you make a business case? Show them how it will help them meet their objectives more efficiently.”

“Don’t lead with the hippy stuff,” added Pink. “Lead with the business results and align what you’re saying with your CEO’s interests. Most effective change doesn’t come from an edict from the top. It comes from one person being pissed off about something and doing something to make it better… so just try something. If it works, do it again. If it doesn’t, never mention it again.”

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  • Absolutely - in my interview with Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) he clearly states that the best CEOs / leaders are not those with the best 'hard' skills (finance, IT etc) but soft skills (empathy being one). Here's the interview for those that wish to watch: http://www.leadersin.com/programmes/daniel-goleman-full-interview-nov-2011

  • Empathy is characteristic of those leaders who care about their followers and other stakeholders. Those who care only about themselves are variously known as corporate psychopaths or aggressive narcissists or Machiavellians, in other words they are toxic leaders. They create a culture of bullying and abuse, effective employees leave as soon as they can and organisational decline is then rapid. Screening for toxic leaders would automatically keep out those with no empathy and thus safeguard the organisation and ensure its longevity.

  • Whether Empathy is the top leadership competency or not - the critical point is that leaders with low levels of empathy, especially combined with a high achievement drive and bias for action often "run over" the talent in their organizations and ultimately drive people out. Leaders who increase their self-awareness and work to develop their empathy will in fact significantly increase their results and that of their company.

  • At the Leadership Trust we have been working with leaders to understand and develop their empathy and broader emotional intelligence for 40 years. It is only quite recently that we have used the language of EQ to describe this.

    Leadership is fundamentally about people. We have to understand ourselves and those we lead and critically, the impact we have on each other.

  • Very thought-provoking, I wonder who's running this programme and what the components are?

    Good to see a lead being given by top executives in industry.

  • Line managers will be skeptical of emotional intelligence and employees will feel manipulated by neuroscience. Luckily neither is really results based so they won't do much harm.

    Manchester CIPD is discussing what makes a good line manager. Presumably Wimbledon believe they should be tested on both these 'techniques'

    The LinkedIn discussion group is reading up on psychopaths. Perhaps we could get on with the job on results based practices.

  • E agree ,it is about time emotional emotion training is taken seriously by line managers who need to change their mindsets.

    Training and Human Resource Departments need to convince operational managers that E.Q is a critical skill for them to be successful leaders.