Is It Important to be a More Empathetic Leader?
During our leadership development training programs, many leaders (especially new people leaders) ask why and where empathy fits into a business setting. Isn’t business success all about performance? No. The best leaders balance relationships and results.
That means being a more empathetic leader. Of course, results matter, but it’s the people and the relationships between people that are at the heart of sustainable high performance. Leaders without empathy lack the ability to fully understand their teams and identify with all of their issues. Leaders who lack empathy are unable to communicate meaningfully with those out of their sphere.
The key to succeeding as a more empathetic leader is to balance empathy for your employees with the other qualities that matter in effectively leading high performing teams.
Where Empathy Fits in a Corporate Setting
The best leaders know how to encourage the best from their employees by:
- Knowing How to Listen
Listening well is a form of empathy. Paying close attention and making sure you fully understand what someone is trying to tell you shows that you value who is talking and what they are saying.
How can you hope to engage your workers and gain their trust and commitment unless you really hear what concerns them? Connecting, understanding, and moving forward with colleagues is essential to successful leadership at every level.
- Knowing When to Be Straightforward
Being empathetic as a leader does not mean you are “soft.” Your reaction to an employee in distress should be kind, but you need to balance your emotional with your cognitive side. You are, after all, responsible for the performance of your team. From empathy, you as a listener and your employee need to move toward meaningful action.
Ask how you can support them. They may be satisfied simply by sharing what is bothering them. Maybe they are looking for advice. Perhaps a change of task or role or hours-on-the-job is needed. Whatever the “fix,” be honest and transparent in your support and solution.
- Understanding the Difference Between Nice and Kind
Don’t err on the side of avoiding the truth in order to be “nice.” It is not in anyone’s best interest to sugarcoat the truth. Instead, seek to be kind.
Tell the truth in a supportive and empathetic way. Give your employee the opportunity to understand what you need in terms of their performance and then ensure people have the chance to grow and change.
In essence, the empathetic leader is able to flex with both the situation and the employee’s feelings and needs. The best leaders are able to stretch and shift their reactions to the ones that will best resonate with their employee.
Do you have an employee who is angry? Listen and then try to seek a solution together. Do you have an employee who has a personal problem? Listen and see what kind of support they need. Do you have an employee who has a conflict with another on the team? Listen and work with both individually and then together to resolve it.
The Bottom Line
A more empathetic leader considers the feelings of their people and empathizes with their challenges. Are you leading your team with the right balance of relationships and results?
To learn more about how to engage top talent, download Top Tips to Increase Employee Engagement through Communication