Leaders Who Demonstrate Compassion and Empathy Get Better Results

Jeanne Grunert
Sep 13, 2018 · 2 min read

A new study conducted by researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York finds that leaders who demonstrate compassion and empathy along with high task and performance-related expectations achieve the best results. Being nice pays off.

Are You Too Nice?

Stay That Way. It Gets the Best Results.

Have you been accused of being too nice? That stings, especially when you are a leader — a CEO, C-suite executive, director or manager. Those in power over you may insist that you toughen up and show less emotion in the workplace.

A new study contradicts this approach and instead posits that empathy, compassion, and concern for subordinates and coworkers positively correlates to improved workplace performance and performance reviews.

Researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York examined 1,000 members of the Taiwanese military as well as 200 workers from corporate America. The study included both Asian and Western working environments to determine if the findings were applicable across cultures.

“person holding black pen on white paper” by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Most Effective Leaders Are Nice People

The researchers looked at three leadership styles:

  1. Authoritarian: An authoritarian-style leader, or one who asserts absolute authority or control over subordinates with little concern for their well-being.
  2. Paternalistic: One who combines an authoritarian leadership style with concern for the well-being of others. The primary focus of a paternalistic leader is task completion and goal achievment but such leaders also demonstrate empathy and care for others.
  3. Benevolent: Benevolent leaders focus first on concern for the well being of others and secondarily on task completion and goals achieved.

The chief finding in the study? That the most effective leaders are also ncie people.

The authoritarian leader universally leads to negative job performance. This held true in both the military members studied and in the corporate workers included in the study.

The nice managers, or those who exhibited either a paternalistic or benevolent style of leadership, achieved the best results on job performance.

Researchers speculate that paternalistic-style leadership remains effective because it echoes the parent-child bond, people’s earliest relationships and one which humans are hard-wired to respect.

The confluence of such characteristics and behaviors as establishing structure, setting expectations, and demonstrating concern for the well-being of others appears to generate the best response among subordinates, with the greatest benefit towards overall workplace performance.

Key Take-Aways

  1. When hiring leaders for your company, look for those who demonstrate empathy as well as clear communications.
  2. Setting clear goals and expectations appears to be equally as important as compassion towards coworkers.
  3. Avoid hiring authoritarian, dominant personalities that demonstrate low empahty.
  4. As a leader, striking a balance between care for others and high expectations achieves the best results.

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