Successful leaders do two important things. These are often overlooked in favour for more dynamic and exciting attributes but the two things are simply ’empathy’ and ‘decisiveness’.

Effective leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and are acutely aware of their own position in the world and that of others. Empathy is one example and behaviour of those with high Emotional Intelligence (EI). It is the ability to understand others and really see views, challenges and approaches from another’s perspective. This understanding is not just ‘lip service’ but is an understanding on an emotional level as well as a cognitive level. Walking in another’s shoes, actively trying to work, live and interact as they do is a sign of a good leader. Furthermore, truly great leaders lead by example and innately understand the world of those they lead and represent. They empathise with others, try to seek out opportunities to challenge their own perspective to inform and influence their approach.

Decisiveness is another essential trait. Successful leaders do not ‘sit on the fence’, they quickly make decisions and take action. What we can learn from this is that decision making doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated. Decisions are often feared in-case of making the wrong choice but good leaders make wrong or bad decisions all the time. The difference is they recognise and correct mistakes quickly and are not afraid of making these mistakes in the first place. Many leaders can assess information quickly to enable an informed choice but this ability comes from regularly deciding, choosing and having experience in making decisions. Effective leaders seek out opportunities to be decisive and as with many things, there more you do something, the better and more proficient you become.

Opportunity is key and seeking out opportunities to be empathetic and decisive can help improve leadership behaviour. Trying to encourage leadership behaviour in a learning and development environment can be challenging. Often it’s difficult to recreate real life scenarios and experiences. Examples, case studies and group work can add to the dynamic but is not a substitute to real life. So how can we encourage the leadership behaviours of empathy and decisiveness? There are three things we can do:

1. Change perspectives

Facilitating opportunities for learners to change their perspective can help. This could mean, speaking to others, exchanging experiences or simply encouraging questioning and curiosity. Changing perspective helps with empathy, it allows learners to physically practice seeing things from another’s perspective. It is important that this activity is driven by the learner so that they can experience this directly and have an opportunity to reflect on their own behaviour and position. Physically changing perspective can help learners to consider thinking and feeling differently as well.

2. Speed date

We can learn leadership from the speed dating technique. In a speed dating situation, there is limited time and opportunity to ask questions and make a decision. Introducing a similar environment in a learning and development context means learners can practice their decision making. In a relatively short space of time real decision can be made, repeated and reflected on. Rather than selecting a love match, learners could select business partners, group members or select from multiple projects. The speed dating approach also enhances other skills such as communication, presentation and networking skills.

3. Enlist competitiveness

Competing naturally brings out many leadership qualities but specifically decision making and empathy. In trying to gain the competitive advantage we all naturally try to discover our competitors ‘angle’ and compare this to our own. This is a good way to encourage empathetic thinking, trying to understand the motivations and thoughts of others. The competition simply gives learners a reason to explore this. The act of competing also flexes our decision making skills. A competition may provide a deadline, limitations or constraints all of which provide decisiveness opportunities such as making choices quickly or deciding and sticking to a particular approach.

Leadership can often seem mysterious and complex but in reality it’s simple, empathise with others and be decisive. These two behaviours provide a good place to start and actively seeking opportunities to put empathy and decision making into practice can enhance leadership skills.