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The Importance of Empathetic Leadership in the Age of Disruption

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The Importance of Empathetic Leadership in the Age of Disruption

Yogesh Sirohi, CFO, PwC India, 0

Yogesh has been associated with PwC for over five years now, prior to which he held the roles of Executive Director Finance and Branch Accountant at KPMG India and Thomas Cook, respectively.

In today’s ever changing business landscape which is fuelled by the proliferation of new technologies and the age of disruption, the tenets of leadership from the past no longer seem relevant. For organisations worldwide, the only constant is change, disruption is the new normal, self-cannibalisation of revenue is perfectly acceptable, and there is a blurring of lines between erstwhile analogue and digital models of doing business. Leadership in the face of great change can be a daunting task, and it is important that those of us who are in such positions realign our old ways and adapt ourselves to the future challenges that define this new era. With the mass adoption of new technologies and disruptive work models, relying on now obsolete concepts of leadership such ascentralisation of responsibilities and the leader follower model is no longer effective for the management of people or organisational culture. With the very fabric of organisations undergoing seismic transformations from inside-out, managing the organisational culture is as critical to a leader’s strategic agenda as managing people themselves. Some might even regard the two as being synonymous in the context of their overarching purpose. Therefore, it is important that leaders ask themselves how they can stand-out in leading their organisations in these times of change.

From a holistic perspective, it is clear how leadership directly correlates with team morale. To steer any company through the turbulent waters of transformation, one needs to look at the big ‘E’, i.e. empathy. Empathetic leadership is the answer to the present and futurechanging business environment. Empathetic leadership has also become an area of growing interest in the field of leadership studies. Being empathetic is an essential trait that can anchor an organisation and help its employees adapt to change and disruption. Empathy allows leaders to become an ally to their teams and helps them manage the human aspect of transformation. During transformational processes within an organisation, the human aspect is often overlooked in favour of the technical changes that are taking place, with a focus on upskilling and digitisation. However, managing the workforce is as important as managing the technical aspects. This becomes the defining factor for certain incumbent firms who are more successful in their transformation journeys than others.

Empathy is arguably one of the most important and often overlooked tool in a leader’s arsenal. In the convoluted web of people management, it is the locus of trust and morale. In my experience, I have found trust and morale
to be critical in driving a high-performance culture, and this is especially true during the times of transformation. When organisations undergo technological transformations, there is often an environment of fear and uncertainty known inhibitors of productivity and performance. For employees to embrace resistance to change, it is essential that they trust their leader to guide them in the right direction. As leaders, we have a shortage of time on our hands and lack the liberty or flexibility to reassure each individual in our teams/organisations. Therefore, it is important that we build a culture of trust and transparency. As the chief financial officer(CFO) of a leading professional services firm, I oversee a mammoth team many of whom I don’t have the opportunity to interact with daily. How then do I go about establishing trust and transparency in this new era of digitisation? The answer is simple – engagement. Being empathetic doesn’t mean just feeling and living the change along with your team, but also being your team’s friend, philosopher and guide.Investing the time to build strong relationships and a sense of community with your team is critical to establishing trust and transparency. Empathetic leaders not only craft a strong narrative, but also create pathways for their team, invest in upskilling, and instil confidence in their team to undertake the journey ahead of them.

Being empathetic is an essential trait that can anchor an organisation and help its employees adapt to change and disruption


Micromanagement is another key to building trust within an organisation. Throughout my professional experience, I have always believed that micro management is the enemy of trust. Leaders cannot empower their teams if they do not trust them to take accountability for their work. Letting teams handle work by themselves, especially amidst organisation-wide transformations, can seem like a daunting idea. However, after equipping the teams with the appropriate training and development necessary to upskill them for the tasks at hand, it is important to give them space to adapt to these changes. Over time, the balance between disruption and displacement will reach a new equilibrium, as new roles will emerge to replace those which have become redundant. While organisations strive to achieve that delicate balance, leaders who micromanage their teams risk leaving them behind

Many firms that undergo a digital transformation are unable to deal with the challenges that come with it. In my experience, true success in the pursuit of transformation comes from a leader’s ability to guide their team through the uncertainty and fear that come with change. Empathetic leaders who can encourage their teams to embrace new changes and upskill themselves to thrive in the changing environment will be successful. Leaders shouldn’t neglect the human side of transformation in favour of the technical one. While we tend to approach change pragmatically and systematically, calculating the quantifiable factors and financial outcomes of change, it is ultimately the people who can drive the change to success. Making transformation a collective agenda by turning people into champions of change is the key to leadership during times of disruption.

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