Why empathy is now the most important leadership skill

COVID has shaken expectations of what it means to lead…it’s never been clearer it pays to care.*

The heart of caring is empathy.

As we emerge from the pandemic, empathy is the most important leadership skill. It’s the bedrock of positive work relationships.

The core of empathy is wanting to understand another person, taking the time to ask questions of others, genuinely showing an interest in their response, and using that information to inform your future interactions. It relies on core leadership behaviours such as listening, asking questions and encouraging dialogue.

Done well, it feels like the person you are talking to really ‘gets you’; like they’ve tuned in to you.

Done badly, you smell the lack of authenticity a mile off….

…And when real empathy is missing it’s a building block for negative relationships and a lack of trust.

Empathy relies on self-awareness and knowing the impact you have on others. At its best it is flexing your style to match what somebody else needs, not what you think they need!

This sense of feeling understood and heard is important to people in their workplace, particularly with someone they see as a leader. They want their leader to care about them.
Taking the time to understand what your people are thinking, what they are feeling, and their current experience, expresses a degree of caring which others feel. They start to care about you and you build a mutuality in the relationship that can be pivotal.

Is your leadership development equipping your leaders with the critical skills like empathy that they need to build positive working relationships?

If you would like to explore how we can help you accelerate positive leadership relationships, please contact us on




Triumpha article one of the most popular in Strategic HR Review

The article, ‘Mapping a Strategic Approach to HR Leadership’ is amongst the most frequently downloaded in Strategic HR Review. Receiving over 700 downloads since publication in 2012.


How pleased am I? Thrilled actually, and wanted to share this news.


I started to write when I founded Triumpha. There were things to say about what matters in organisations and what works in practice, and I was ready to fuel my ambition. Namely, helping others develop extraordinary leadership, leadership teams and breakthrough organisation performance led by people.


I believe that strategic HR has significant potential for modernising management practice, bringing it into line with the needs of the twenty first century organisation. The strategic HR role is typically understood, but there is a difference between this understanding and what happens in practice – the ‘knowing-doing gap. Unfortunately, this means that the potential for HR leaders to make an impactful difference is often never realised.


Mapping a Strategic Approach to HR Leadership uses a case study about our work with a leading retailer and shows:

  • How we closed the ‘knowing-doing’ gap.
  • Five crucial conversations that strategic human resources leaders must catalyse within their organisations.
  • How human resources leaders can build their confidence and strategic capability by working through a planned change process.
  • How to build appetite and expectation for a strategic Human Resources contribution among line colleagues.
  • A staged approach for developing and embedding strategic human resources capability in an HR team.


To read more, download a copy of the full article below.

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Strategic Talent Management

Few CEOs today question the importance of talent to their business. But how many genuinely align the organisation’s strategy with its talent needs? They may say that human capital is their primary concern but too often, ‘talent management’ is relegated to the HR department. This allows vital decisions about the organisation’s future to evolve in siloes – and it’s an outdated approach to organisational transformation.

”Work in the human capital dimension underpins many of the company’s most important decisions about where and how to compete,” according to a recent article by Accenture consultancy.

Selection firm Heidrick & Struggles even notes the emergence of a new discipline, ‘strategic talent management’, among FTSE companies. However, it is a role that has yet to find its place among senior executives.

This is perhaps the only consistent thing about talent management in organisations: there is little direct connection between big-picture strategy and human capital requirements. A KPMG report found that while 81 per cent of business leaders claimed to regard talent as key, only 17 per cent believed HR did a good job in leading that strategy.

This does both HR and the organisation a disservice: “The only route to improved performance is by placing your human resource at the centre of your strategic decision-making,” according to author and London Business School professor Lynda Gratton.

What is needed is a more strategic approach to talent that moves the discussion beyond HR and into the boardroom. It means hardwiring ‘strategic talent management’ into the overarching business plan, and placing it under the leadership of the CEO.

Thinking and acting strategically about talent gives strategy
focus. It’s about getting the right people in the right places at the right time. It is outdated to relegate concepts such as ‘culture’ or engagement to any single division within business: as the recent banking scandals have amply demonstrated, corporate culture is at the heart of any organisation that employs people.

“Talent sits with all parties on the board. It doesn’t matter what role you have: you cannot ignore what is going on in other parts of the business,” says Jon Coverdale, UK HR director at Inchcape former group HR director (CS&S) at BAE Systems. “If only the HR person is interested in talent, that’s a worry – it indicates a degree of myopia on the board.”

There is absolutely a role for talent at the boardroom table and good CEOs will have an HR director there, but it’s a collective responsibility. This, argues Harvard Business School’s John Kotter, is what separates leaders from managers: leadership, he says, is about “taking an organisation into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster” and successfully exploiting them. But it is also “about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change.”

Traditional views of strategic talent management have one thing in common: they relegate it to the domain of Human Resources or organisational development (OD) practitioners. CEOs may well acknowledge the importance of talent, but many still see it less in terms of strategy and more in terms of tactics and role filling.

We believe it is essential to hardwire strategic talent management into business planning processes and place it under the direct leadership of the CEO and the senior team.


  • A CEO’s Guide
  • An HR Leader’s Guide
  • White Paper

If you would like a copy of these materials, please email quoting ‘STM’ and we will send you the download links.

Talent Management in the Downturn

For organisations to be fit for the future they need to be fit for human beings according to Gary Hamel. We agree with his statement and in this article we consider some of the most pressing talent management challenges facing senior leaders and HR professionals as we emerge from the downturn.

Key points include:

  • The down turn is not just economic its psychological and emotional. Employees are tired and need help to reignite their passion, productivity and creativity.
  • Talent management approaches must help employees to find meaning at work. Leaders need to be able to convey the true spirit of their organisation and how its purpose goes beyond making money to also making a difference.
  • Translating external customer expectations into internal behaviours attunes the workforce to the needs of the market and leads to an informed employee voice.
  • To future proof their organisation leaders need to embrace what it means to be human and balance this with the needs of the business.

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Mapping a Strategic Approach to HR Leadership

The quality of HR Leadership in organisations is mixed. When we talk to HR professionals about working strategically, we typically find that ‘common sense is not common practice’. Sometimes people don’t understand what to do, or more usually they understand what to do, but they don’t do it, what we call the ‘knowing-doing’ gap.

Building the strategic capability of Human Resources leaders and their teams is essential. Strategic Human Resources has the potential to modernise management practice, bringing it into line with the needs of the 21st century organisation. HR leadership must strike the balance between business demands and the needs of the organisation and its workforce to adapt to change. This delivers sustainable value for all of the organisation’s stakeholders.

In this paper we cover:

  • How we have closed the HR leadership ‘knowing-doing’ gap in a leading retailer.
  • Five crucial conversations that strategic human resources leaders must catalyse within their organisations.
  • How Human Resources Leaders can build their confidence and strategic capability by working through a planned change process.
  • How to build appetite and expectation for a strategic Human Resources contribution among line colleagues.
  • A staged approach for developing and embedding strategic Human Resources capability in an HR team.

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The Changing Role of HR

The role of HR has changed. The industrial age practice of employing people ‘from the shoulders down’ is outdated. In today’s knowledge economy HR must capitalise on individuals ‘from the neck up’ to create a culture in which every employee is liberated and contributes meaningfully.

This article the Changing Role of HR was featured in HR Magazine’s Vision section, a series of in-magazine articles and web content exploring key themes of increasing importance in the future of work. Triumpha’s Andrea Adams was invited to close the series.

Key points in the Changing Role of HR include:

  • To be fit for the future an organisation must have a compelling purpose which goes beyond making money. It’s about doing well (making a profit) and doing good (making a difference).
  • Meeting human needs in the workplace is essential. Human Resources professionals need to design systems and approaches that provide meaning and shape how business is done.
  • People commit to what they help to create:
    •  Goals and change will most likely be accomplished when people are involved in co-constructing the goal, assessing the current state of affairs and defining the route map to move from the desired state to the desired goal.
    • Creating the space for conversations and dialogue which unifies effort and team spirit and supports employees to make the wider agenda relevant to their day to day work is essential leadership work.
  • Developing leaders who have the competence and character necessary to lead the web of complex institutions that have become so vital to the health of modern societies is essential.

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