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The definition of a great leader has changed over the last few years.  Empathy in leadership is now in demand.  Specifically, in relation to the pandemic, teams and organizations have begun to expect a greater level of connectedness and rapport.

Now more than ever, It’s critical for companies to develop more effective managers and leaders capable of moving their teams forward during both good and challenging times.  The ability of effective leaders to support and motivate will create massive impact within the organization.

This development requires looking beyond traditional strategies and cultivating the skills most important for success. One of those skills, perhaps unexpectedly, is empathy — a vital leadership competency.

Studies have shown that when leaders connect with their teams on a consistent and deep level, their teams feel more heard, understood and harmonious overall.  Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand and be aware of the feelings, thoughts and needs of others.

Unfortunately, it has long been a soft skill that’s overlooked as a performance indicator. Today’s successful leaders must be more “person-focused” and able to work well with people from varying teams, departments, countries, cultures, and backgrounds.

 

Why is Empathy Important?

Empathy is an important trait because it allows us to understand and connect with others on a deeper level. Here are some reasons why empathy is important:

  1. Build better relationships: When we are able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective, we can build stronger, more meaningful relationships.
  2. Improve communication: Empathy allows us to communicate more effectively with others, because we are better able to understand their needs, concerns, and emotions.
  3. Resolve conflicts: Empathy helps us to see conflicts from another person’s perspective, which can make it easier to find a resolution that works for everyone involved.
  4. Enhance teamwork: When we are able to empathize with our colleagues, we are more likely to work together effectively and achieve better results.
  5. Boost personal well-being: Empathy can also have a positive impact on our own mental and emotional health, as it helps us to feel more connected to others and less isolated.

Overall, empathy is an important trait that can improve our relationships, communication, and well-being, and it is an essential component of emotional intelligence.

Empathetic Leadership

It is important to have empathy in leadership for several reasons:

  1. Build trust and respect: Leaders who demonstrate empathy are more likely to be seen as trustworthy and respected by their team members. When leaders understand and respond to the needs and concerns of their team members, they build stronger relationships.
  2. Increase motivation: Empathetic leaders are able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their team members and provide the support and encouragement needed to motivate them to do their best work.
  3. Improve communication: Leaders who demonstrate empathy are better able to communicate with their team members because they are able to understand their perspectives and concerns. This can lead to better decision-making and more effective problem-solving.
  4. Foster collaboration: Empathetic leaders are able to create a collaborative and inclusive work environment where team members feel valued and heard. This can lead to higher levels of engagement and better outcomes.
  5. Reduce conflicts: When leaders are able to understand and respond to the needs of their team members, they are better able to resolve conflicts and prevent them from escalating.

Overall, empathy is an important trait for leaders because it helps to build stronger relationships, increase motivation, improve communication, foster collaboration, and reduce conflicts. By demonstrating empathy, leaders can create a positive work environment that promotes success and well-being for everyone involved.

 

Defining Empathy At Work.

Recently Psychologists have been more involved in defining the criteria that define emotional intelligence (EQ).  These are:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation
  • Internal motivation
  • Social skills
  • Empathy

 

Empathy reflects our ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. It is the capacity to connect or ‘feel’ what the other person is experiencing and the ability to place one’s self in another person’s position.  Empathy is the ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. Those with high levels of empathy are skilled at understanding a situation from another person’s perspective and reacting with compassion.

At this junction, it’s important to draw a distinction between sympathy and empathy:

  • Sympathy is typically defined by feelings of pity for another person, without really understanding what it’s like to be in their situation.
  • Empathy, refers to the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or perspective of that person.

 

How to Demonstrate Greater Empathy as a Leader

While several of the components of EQ facilitate connection, as leaders none makes more impact than empathy. When we focus on our ability to listen deeply and effectively, not just intellectually but on an emotional level, we foster feelings of trust, understanding and compassion.

1. Pay Attention to Signs of Burnout.

Work burnout is a real problem today and it comes at greater risk during times of stress and pressure. Some studies indicate that our society experiences higher levels of day-to-day stress than ever before.  Often employees are putting in more work hours than ever before and finding it difficult to separate work and home life.

Empathetic managers who are connected to their team are able to recognize signs of overwork before burnout becomes an issue affects performance, disengagement and retention. This might mean taking a few extra minutes each week to check in with team members and gauge how they’re handling their current workload and helping them to recover from overwork.

2. Practice Authenticity and Show Sincerity to Others.

Part of leading with empathy involves working to understand the unique needs and goals of each team member and how to best match work assignments.  When managers can do this, they foster a natural boost in both performance and employee satisfaction. Team members who see that their manager recognizes them in this way are more engaged and willing to go the extra mile. In this way, authentic interactions where there is a sincere interest in the needs, hopes and dreams of other people, are a benchmark for exceptional leadership.

3. Be Willing to Help Employees with Personal Problems.

Gone are the days of stoicism and swallowed emotions – indeed this style is no longer acceptable as leadership.  Lines between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred. Empathetic leaders understand that their team members are dynamic individuals who are shouldering personal problems while having to maintain their professional responsibilities. They recognize that it’s part of their role to lead and support those team members when they need it most.

Keeping open lines of communication and encouraging transparency is a good way to foster psychological safety among the group and help team members feel comfortable sharing when it’s necessary.

4. Cultivate Compassion.

Support managers who care about how others feel.  Their business decisions effect team members, customers, and communities. Go beyond the standard-issue responses and allow time for compassionate reflection where you can create the connection to support that employee.  Real connections and friendships at work matter and empathetic leadership is a tool that managers can use to build connection and relationships with those they’re privileged to lead.

4. Emphasize the Value of Empathy by Speaking to it.

Talking about the importance of empathy within the leadership of an organization is an essential first step.  Many managers consider task-oriented skills such as monitoring and planning to be more important in controlling the performance of their team members. However research shows that understanding, caring, and developing others is just as important, if not more important, in today’s dynamic and changing workplace.

For managers, giving time and attention to others fosters empathy, which in turn enhances your performance and improves your perceived effectiveness.

5. Train Active Listening.

To understand others and sense what they’re feeling, managers must be good listeners, skilled in active listening techniques, who let others know that they’re being heard and express understanding of concerns and problems.

When a manager is a good listener, people feel respected which fosters feelings of trust within the team. To show the highest levels of empathy in the workplace, managers should focus on listening to hear the meaning behind what others are saying by paying attention not only to what is said, but the feelings and values being shown.  This includes attending to nonverbal cues such as tone, pace of speech, facial expressions, and gestures.

 

Final Thoughts

Leadership has changed.  Effective leaders can no longer have singular focus on productivity and profitability.  As the climate of the workplace continues towards a dynamic swell of ebb and flow, employees are expecting a new level of connection for their day-to-day roles.

Effective leadership must take a holistic approach.  The distinction between welfare and well-being has been made.  Above all, as managers and business leaders, empathy is crucial.  This is the key to creating lasting connection and performance within our teams.

 

    Sources

    • Rahman, Wan A. & Castelli, Patricia A.  “The Impact of Empathy on Leadership Effectiveness among Business Leaders in the United States and Malaysia” International Journal of Economics Business and Managment Studies – IJEBMS (Click to View) Accessed 04/19/2021.
    • Kellett, Janet B., Humphrey, Ronald H & Sleeth, Randall G.  “Empathy and the emergence of task and relations leaders” (Click to View) Accessed 04/19/21
    • M Leonard, S. Graham & D. Bonacum “The human factor: the critical importance of effective teamwork and communication in providing safe care”  (Click to View) Accessed 04/12/21

    Katrina Murphy

    Katrina Murphy

    Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.

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