Empathy is for people in the ‘caring professions’, right? And maybe for us when we are home with our kids… But Fearless Teams don’t need empathy!

Wrong! Empathy is a major component of Emotional Intelligence, and a necessary ingredient for a successful leadership team.

Research conducted by MIT* looked at characteristics that distinguished smarter teams from the rest and found that it wasn’t the IQ of the individual team members that made the difference. Even more interestingly, teams with members who were more motivated to contribute to their group’s success were not more successful!

One of the three factors that made the difference was social sensitivity – the ability to read complex emotional states (measured via a test for empathy).

Paul Elkman**, best known for his work studying facial expressions and emotion, has classified three types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy – perspective-taking; knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking.
  • Emotional empathy – emotional contagion; feeling physically as the other person does and being well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world.
  • Compassionate empathy – not only understanding a person’s predicament and feeling it with them, people with compassionate empathy are spontaneously moved to help, if needed.


Fearless Teams need empathy, and as I help leaders better understand themselves and one another, I regularly experience empathy growing within the team. And as empathy develops, so does success.

How are you on empathy? What will you do today to develop empathy for your peers and model this within your leadership team?

Go fearlessly (and with empathy).


PS:  Want to know what the other two key distinguishing factors of successful teams found in the research were? 1) Their members contributed more equally to team discussions. 2) Teams with more women.

* ‘Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others’, Anita Woolley, Thomas W Malone and Christopher F Chabris, January 2015

** https://www.paulekman.com/


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