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Jag Reehals thinking on things, mostly product development

Empathy: The Underrated Leadership Skill That Boosts Productivity

01 May 2024

As the English Football League nears the climax of another demanding season, leaders are confronted with the challenge of motivating weary players and handling the intense mental and physical pressures of chasing titles, securing promotions, or avoiding relegation.

As a Barcelona supporter, it might come as a surprise that I using Jose Mourinho, a figure often mired in controversy, who exemplified empathetic leadership during his reign at Inter Milan, leading to their historic treble win.

Mourinho and Sneijder

During the 2009-2010 season at Inter Milan, Mourinho noticed Wesley Sneijder's exhaustion. Rather than ignoring the situation, he took an unconventional approach, deifying the usual win-at-all-costs mentality in sports by advising Sneijder to take some time off.

Mourinho noticed Sneijder's exhaustion and said, "Wesley, you look tired. Take a few days off. Go get some sun with your wife and child." This approach was unlike any other coach Sneijder had encountered, who typically focused only on training. Taking Mourinho's advice, Sneijder went to Ibiza for three days.

This break not only rejuvenated him but also deepened his loyalty, significantly enhancing his performance for the remainder of the season. Upon his return, he felt so revitalized and committed that he was ready to go to battle for Mourinho. Sneijder later expressed

When I got back, I was prepared to kill and die for him.

This is a vital lesson for leaders everywhere: by actively listening to and addressing team concerns, you foster an environment of trust and respect.

In my own experience as a leader, I have witnessed similar transformations.

Leaders who prioritise empathy consistently prove more effective in revitalizing teams suffering from low morale and productivity. Their empathetic approach infuses these teams with new energy, strengthening loyalty and boosting performance. These experiences underscore that the ability to genuinely connect with and respond to team members not only enhances performance but also fosters a culture of mutual respect and dedication, leading to a more harmonious and productive work environment.

Empathetic leaders not only enhance team outcomes but also improve overall well-being, creating a supportive work environment that values both people and results.