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Think of the word “leader.” Who comes to mind? Maybe it’s a public figure, a mentor, a parent, a peer, a coach, or a boss. How do you know they’re a good leader? While leadership is often associated with certain titles or roles, a good leader is most often recognized by how they make others feel rather than the specifics of their title. They shine when they are caring for people, lifting them up, and empowering them to do their very best.

If the pandemic changed the ways that we work (and it did), it also changed the way we think about effective leadership. Perhaps one of its most noticeable changes to discourse about workplace culture was an increased openness about mental health and well-being. With the additional strain of a global pandemic, uncertain child care, health, and financial concerns, many workers were not doing well – and they no longer felt like hiding it. Leaders who created space for their peers and employees to be whole human beings with challenges and needs emerged as workplace culture champions, adapting to the new normal with more ease than those who held tightly to old, stringent norms of leadership.

These skills are highly in demand. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review“71 percent of employers value emotional intelligence more than technical skills when evaluating candidates.” 

The idea that leadership can be softer and more empathic and that these qualities can not only lead to a better experience by those being led, but also better overall business outcomes is an idea worth exploring. When it comes to employee mental health, leaders with high emotional intelligence tend to bring more empathy to their relationships, allowing those they serve to show up as their whole selves and get access to care when they need it. 

It is important to care for the people we are in relationships with, at work and beyond. However, it is a helpful bonus that empathic leaders tend to have teams that are more engaged, more likely to remain at the organization, and have the freedom to be truly innovative. According to a study, written in Forbes, “When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative—61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.” 

It’s in everyone’s interest to allow space for employee wellbeing and mental health to be approached and treated with empathy and understanding. It is the responsibility of leaders to ensure that they are breaking free of old, stale leadership ideas to keep up with the ways we work now and ensure that their employees feel understood, valued, and cared for.

And just as supporting our current generation of leaders is important, so is paving the way for the next generation. That’s why we partnered with Alliance for Public Schools for this year’s GradNation, a one-day symposium focused on student leadership and improving school climate and culture. This innovative event brought together over 300 students and adults with the ultimate goal of increasing graduation rates. Because with the right leaders in the room, there’s nothing we can’t do!