Article: View from the Top | Geoffrey Woodcroft of Geoff Woodcroft Consulting


View from the Top | Geoffrey Woodcroft of Geoff Woodcroft Consulting

Some leaders associate empathy with being too soft or emotional. But empathy and doing great business are not mutually exclusive, says HR veteran Geoffrey Woodcroft.
View from the Top | Geoffrey Woodcroft of Geoff Woodcroft Consulting

In times of crisis, we see both the best and worst leaders emerge. For an executive coach specialising in human resources, what separates them is the ability to demonstrate empathy.

A leader may be smart and experienced, but none of that will matter if he or she does not have the emotional intelligence to connect with people, said HR veteran Geoffrey Woodcroft.

“One important characteristic of emotional intelligence is that of empathy – a word we all recognise but a behaviour that we sometimes do not see being exhibited by our leaders,” he said.

Geoffrey, who founded the Geoff Woodcroft Consulting firm in 2019, noticed that many leaders mistake empathy for sympathy. Sympathy, he explained, is the ability to be in solidarity emotionally with someone, often in times of tragedy or bereavement. Meanwhile, empathy is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes and see the situation from that other person’s perspective.

“Empathy goes much deeper, it allows a person to connect with what someone else is going through, to imagine being in the same situation, without necessarily having experienced the same thing,” he said.

Read more: View from the Top | Christopher Brooks of Angus Knight Group

Geoffrey clarified, however, that although everyone has the capacity to empathise, not all people can provide the same level of empathy since it can also depend on their genes or upbringing.

Some leaders, he said, associate empathy with being too soft, too emotional, or with an unnecessary distraction from achieving the organisation’s goals. What they might not see, he stressed, is that empathy and getting great business results for the organisation are not mutually exclusive.

“In fact, leaders who focus solely on results tend to be successful only in the short term, because they do not bring their people along with them,” he stated.

“Being empathetic does not mean that you must believe what the other person believes, but it allows you to actually understand and appreciate it.”

Geoffrey added that empathy allows a leader to get insights from the people, which is crucial in espousing loyalty, teamwork, and engagement – things that impact productivity and outcome.

Read more: View from the Top | Jad Vodopija of BHP

In his years of practice, he believes that developing self-awareness, active listening skills, a non-judgmental mindset, and the ability to put aside biases can be helpful in improving one’s empathy.

“Seek feedback from others, observe how other leaders behave, practice active listening, read articles and books and seek to better understand the power of displaying empathy to others,” he said. 

Geoffrey currently heads his own consulting firm, coaching C-Suite leaders across Australia. But before that, he spent more than two decades holding different leadership positions in the HR space.

His most notable leadership roles include being the HR director of Queensland Corrective Services, HR director of Boeing Australia, VP for HR and corporate services of Peabody Energy, and Chief Human Resources Officer of SolGold Plc.

Geoffrey describes his leadership style as pragmatic, focusing on practical solutions based on experience and theoretical knowledge. He believes that “the quality of leadership is the only unique competitive advantage a company has” over rivals.

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Topics: Leadership, C-Suite, Culture

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