If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that it weeded out the weak and ineffective leaders, and spotlighted those who exhibited good leadership skills. Good leaders were able to navigate their companies through uncertain waters while maintaining employee morale and productivity.
While these good leaders possess many qualities, the one that we will focus on here is empathy, as that was the one brought into sharp focus over the past few years – because even leaders with the best strategy and roadmap for the company will not be able to get everyone to share that vision and own it if they don’t have empathy. And everyone knows you get further and faster when everyone is equally motivated by the end goal.
That’s where an empathic leadership style comes in. It can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale, and loyalty. When a colleague has an issue, for instance, they may be frustrated and just want you to listen to them. By something as simple as letting them tell you all the details before responding, you can show them you value what they have to say. And Gallup surveys have consistently revealed that people value being valued more than increased salaries!
Teams with empathetic leaders are more innovative and push the boundaries more, as they feel safe in the knowledge that they won’t be blamed for failures in these experiments. Leaders benefit from empathy as it helps them to understand the root cause behind poor performance and address it constructively.
Let’s Dig Deep About Empathy
Empathy is a hard skill to quantify, but leaders who have it are generally able to lead through challenging times more successfully. Good leaders know how to collect input and suggestions from everyone, make a decision that is best suited for the organisation, and fulfill the (reasonable) requirements of the majority.
In order to recognise the qualities of being empathetic, it is important to understand what empathy means. According to Wikipedia, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
Given the divide between management and the rest of the organisation, it’s a given that executives cannot understand the issues faced by the rest of the employees. By being empathetic, leaders bridge this divide and connect on a human level, strengthening loyalty and pride in being a part of the organisation.
Empathy is a key factor in Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ), which measures an individual’s abilities to recognise and manage their emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. An empathetic leader with a high EQ will know which of the three aspects of empathy – cognitive (head/thinking), affective (heart/feeling), and behavioural (action/doing) – to use in a given situation.
A Few Dos and Don’ts of Being an Emphatic Leader
Empathetic leaders can steer a company through turbulent times by providing employees with the understanding and recognition they need to navigate the crisis. It’s not all woo-woo and fluffy stuff, either. In fact, the quantifiable benefits can be seen in the level of innovation, employee engagement, and retention rates – not to mention employees who are brand ambassadors, building up your reputation as an employer of choice.
Empathetic leaders understand the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the company. They are able to look beyond whatever is happening at the moment, inspire, encourage, and strategise in ways that will motivate employees at all levels.
So if we were to condense all this into a quick checklist for empathetic leaders:
- Show genuine interest in others and their situations.
- Be willing to support team members with their personal issues.
- Schedule one-on-one meetings to stay connected.
- Keep an eye out for work burnout.
- Implement employee analytics.
- Validate how the other person is feeling.
- Develop your listening skills.
- Challenge your biases.
- Build a great culture to generate speed.
- Approach problems from a different perspective.
A few behaviours to avoid:
- Don’t ask people to “earn your trust”.
- Don’t neglect those who are making the transition to a management role.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to understand better.
The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned through training and coaching, and are a worthwhile investment. You will reap the dividends through increased employee engagement, higher morale levels, and a corresponding increase in productivity and quality of work. These skills will also serve you well in your personal life, but that’s another article for another time!