Actionable How-Tos: Bringing Empathy into Leadership
Leadership styles, rightfully so, are continuously under scrutiny. We spend as much time – if not more – with business leaders than we do with our own families. In our work, we’ve run the gamut of various leadership styles. One quality stands out time and time again as a linchpin for success – empathic leadership. Empathy is the desire to seek to understand and actively work to improve the emotional well being of your employees. It’s not just a soft skill; it is the cornerstone of fostering positive organizational cultures and driving sustained success.
Here are actionable how-tos to interweave into your leadership.
- Put away distractions – like your phone – when others are speaking. Especially in virtual meetings.
- Listen intently, and ask questions that show your understanding.
- Reflect back on what was discussed – and the action items going forward. This ensures employees feel validated, and heard.
- Schedule 1:1 meeting to discuss your employees work loads and bandwidth, and how to actively support. Even if there’s nothing to discuss or expand upon, keep the standing meeting. It’s a great time to check in with how your employees are personally, too. Remember: We show up as the same person in our personal lives as our professional lives.
- Ask open ended questions when discussing work related tasks. Don’t guess or assume the answer. Ask without already planning for what the answer could be.
Encourage Open Communication
- Create relationships and pathways of communication in which employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns about the company’s processes, vision, or goals.
- If possible, establish a channel for anonymous feedback to encourage completely honest communication. Keep this information confidential.
- Everyone is unique. Including their learning style, preferred method of communication, and how they best receive positive – and negative – feedback. Take the time to ask, and incorporate into your communication patterns.
- Work-life integration is key. This looks like: Vacations (without digital connectivity), time to support kids, parents, and other responsibilities. Don’t just accept it – encourage it. We’re big proponents of remote work (for a variety of reasons) for this exact concern!
- Contrary to popular belief, avoiding conflict is not showing empathy. Approach conflicts that are bound to happen – a clash of ideals, or working styles – with a focus on trying to understand and respect the perspectives of all parties. Again, seek to understand.
- Look for resolutions that take into account the emotions and concerns of the affected parties. Dig deeper – what are the real reasons behind a concern? Sometimes, there’s more than meets the eye.
Fostering Team Building:
- Organize and encourage team-building activities that foster a deeper connection and understanding amongst the team.
- Focus on activities that get to know the people behind the employees.
- Deliver feedback constructively and considerately. Try the ‘sandwich’ method. Encapsulate one piece of negative feedback not only with an actionable how-to of how to fix it, but with two positive comments about what is going well.
- Offer resources like counseling services or Employee Assistance Programs. It’s about acknowledging that your employees are people…not cogs in a machine that are expected to be emotionless.
Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
- Promote diversity and inclusion initiatives. DEIB is more than a booklet of ‘how-tos’ that sit on the shelf collecting dust. Integrate these practices – with empathy and seeking to understand – at the core of the initiatives.
- Swiftly address and rectify any instances of bias or discrimination.
Choose to invest in empathic leaders that show these attributes – or a keen understanding that these skills make not only for happier employees, but a more productive workforce.
Leaders can actively create a culture of empathy that results in a motivated, engaged, and cohesive team.