The Power Of Empathetic Leadership

The Power Of

Empathetic Leadership

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When you become a new parent, you might be asked by those nosy (and ahem, opinionated) family members about what parenting style you’ll try to govern by. It’s an odd question to try to answer, as figuring out your personal disciplines and preferences comes with practice. The same could be said about determining what type of leader you are when you run a company, regardless if you’re the one signing the pay stubs or merely collecting one. Will you push your employees to meet specific metrics? Will you encourage them to set both personal and professional goals?

Will you remember to be empathetic? Life coaches and career experts agree that remembering that your employees are humans first and your direct-reports second will help you become a more effective, valued and trusted boss. “Empathy is important as a leader because without it you cannot succeed in a win-win way. Without empathy one is a dictator or a narcissist who just sees things from one perspective,” entrepreneur and life coach, Lisa Haisha explains. “Black and white thinking can only take you so far and also loyalty from your followers is important to see your vision through.” Here is how empathetic leaders lead differently – and arguably, in the way employees wish all of their bosses would have taught them:

They lead from the heart.

Much like taking care of anyone, managing a team requires an open mind. Not only are you constantly being dealt a new hand at often a moment’s (and urgent) notice, but you have to coordinate a variety of personalities, ideas and questions. An empathetic takes the open mind approach but with an added layer of authenticity. As Haisha explains, they often put the heart and conscious at the forefront. “They don’t make snap judgments or decisions.  They truly care what people have to say and try to understand their perspective. Leaders who aren’t empathetic have a tendency to be bull-headed, egotistic and narrow-minded,” she says.

They put others ahead of themselves.

Your end goal might be to become a CEO one day, start and run your own company from the ground up or to simply claim your seat at the executives’ table. While there might be some hard-balling and ceiling-breaking on the way to the top, an empathetic leader doesn’t sacrifice the happiness of their staff to earn a new title. “They put other people’s needs before their own.  They want what is best for the company instead of leading from ego,” Haisha says.

“They get that when you inspire your employees, they work harder for the company and everyone succeeds together. Life is unpredictable and everyone has consistent challenges happening, being an empathetic leader means to be in the moment and not looking at a situation from only the perspective of your lens.”

They make sure their employees feel safe.

To the extent that they can, an empathetic leader will do whatever it takes to remain transparent, candid and open about the future of the business and what employees should expect. This caring attitude that hopes to ease any anxieties around job security, while also providing a blanket reality check is a quality employees will forever value. Why? It’s simple: it makes them feel safe. “Empathy is the key element to creating trust which is the key element to creating strong successful relationships that in turn increase overall happiness and performance,” business coach Emeline Roissetter says. “If your team members have faith that you will take their feelings into consideration, you create a strong bond between you and each one of them which is crucial for promoting better communication, increased creativity, empowered decision-making and enhanced performance.

“Empathy is the key element to creating trust which is the key element to creating strong successful relationships that in turn increase overall happiness and performance”

They know empathy has a ripple effect.

Just as children model the behavior of their parents, your employees learn from the way you make choices for the team, how you balance your own schedule and the way you handle difficult, stressful weeks (or months or quarters). But by putting empathy at the heart of your decisions, both for the professional and personal growth of your employees, you are starting a ripple effect that extends far beyond the office and hopefully, all the way to your customers. “The way you lead your team has a reciprocal effect on the way they deal with their work, other team members and customers,” Roissetter says. “By making the well-being of your people a priority, they will in return make the well-being of the organization their priority.”

They don’t lead by emotion, but they understand its value.

When an employee approaches you to ask about being late for work for a number of weeks because they’d like to start seeing a therapist, you don’t have to sit, listen or give advice if you want to be an empathetic leader. In fact, as Roissetter explains, valuing empathy doesn’t mean you’re emotional or soft but that you are understanding of the important factor emotional health and well-being plays into the overall happiness of your employees. “Being an empathetic leader is actually a difficult skill to acquire and most likely the most powerful in every leader’s toolkit.

Being empathetic means you are able to recognize and share other people’s feelings. It does not mean you have to agree with those feelings, it simply means you are aware of them, even when you can’t sympathize with them,” she says. “Being an empathetic leader means you can appreciate what another person is going through and adapt your leadership style accordingly to deepen the relationship, increase collaboration and create trust. It also means you can provide that person with what they need to achieve their goals and improve their performance. Isn’t that what true leadership is about?”

They’re strong listeners.

Your social media numbers are dropping slightly and you’ve noticed a certain tension between your community manager and the sales team. You’re not sure what’s going on, but that empathetic spidey sense is telling you it’s time to let the floodgates open and have a professional heart-to-heart. An empathetic leader will know that in this interpersonal dilemma – and the dozens of other situations you might encounter – listening is more importanting than responding. And not just with their ears, but their eyes, too. “In order to understand others and sense what they are feeling, empathetic leaders are usually excellent active listeners,” Roissetter says. “Skilled listeners pay attention to non-verbal cues, they refrain from being judgmental, they ask open-ended questions to understand the meaning behind what is being said, they reflect by paraphrasing and summarizing the information and they actively participate in the dialogue by expressing their understanding  of the specific concern or problem. By practicing active listening, people feel heard, validated and respected, this is where trust can grow.”

They know success only comes when everyone succeeds.

“Empathetic leaders understand that their success solely relies on the performance of their team members. They also know that their responsibility is to ensure each team member performs at the best of their capabilities. That means understanding their needs and providing them with the relevant tools and guidance to ensure their success,” Rossitter explains. An empathetic leader doesn’t only become motivated by seeing their employees soar and start making real progress on their goals and their confidence, but they’re happy to be along for the ride, to answer questions and to celebrate the minor and major achievements. “They don’t expect their people to perform on their own, they don’t blame them when things go wrong, they don’t have to impose their authority and they certainly don’t delegate tasks without mutual understanding and collaboration,” Rossietter says.
Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay Tigar is a writer and editor in New York. Her work has appeared in Self, Refinery29, Bustle, Prevention and many more. When she's not traveling or spending time with friends, she's going to the latest boxing class, trying a new food trend or volunteering.

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