We all need understanding and compassionate people around us. It doesn’t matter where we are- be it home, or workplace, or social gatherings. As there is an increased awareness about the importance of soft skills in employees, it is high time we also acknowledge that leaders and employers need some training too. Research shows that empathy is the most necessary leadership skill needed today in a workplace. Empathetic leadership is crucial for a peaceful work environment and the success of a company.
Why is Empathy Important in the Workplace?
Suppose an employee fails to meet the deadline for a critical project and arrives at the office looking distressed. Without reasoning about why this could have happened, the manager goes on to give an earful to the employee and they immediately give their two weeks’ notice on the spot. It later turns out that the person had just lost a loved one and should have been sent on bereavement leave immediately.
If we analyze the given scenario, we can conclude that the manager is not leading with empathy. Speaking to the employee with kindness and consideration asking why the project deadline was not met would have resulted in a much better outcome for everyone involved.
This situation illustrates how important empathetic leadership is in a workplace and why it plays a critical role in having an amicable and healthy work environment. So let us look at all there is to know about empathetic leadership now?
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand what other people are feeling without them having to say anything. It is putting oneself in another’s shoes to try and understand what they feel and why they behave the way they do.
The key part here is “putting oneself in their position”. If one has feelings of pity or understanding without necessarily knowing what it’s like to be in another’s situation, that is sympathy. Sympathy is a feeling of concern for someone and a general sense that they could be happier. There is a fine line between the two, and while sympathy is noble in itself, empathy makes a person truly understand more about the other.
Empathy in a workplace is the ability to understand your colleagues’ perspectives, giving them due respect, and valuing their opinions as much as you will value yours. Here is where the golden rule comes into action: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”.
What is Empathetic Leadership?
Empathetic leadership is where leaders show genuine interest in their team members and their feelings, which builds work relationships based on connection and trust. Different leadership styles can affect how an entire business operates and empathetic leadership can do so positively.
Naturally, empathy at work leads to compassion in the workplace, and if the leaders follow an empathetic approach in all aspects of a business, the overall work culture is improved. Empathy is important in all business tiers and isn’t just about leadership. Members in a team working on a particular project need to approach others with empathy as well.
Let us look at why empathetic leadership is important, the required skills, and how to train managers in the context of empathetic leadership.
Why Is Empathetic Leadership Important?
There are tons of advantages to having an empathetic leadership approach in a workplace, and some of them include the following:
The practice of empathetic leadership results in better job performance. When employees are approached empathetically, they tend to get into an efficiency-reward cycle. Empathetic leadership makes the employees feel safe and trusted, reinforcing honesty, transparency, and flexibility to meet efficiency.
Effective communication is essential in a workplace. To have people come forward and talk clearly, they need to feel valued and should not be afraid to bring new ideas to the table. Relationships built on trust come in handy in these situations. Empathetic leadership goes a long way in ensuring that communication is effective, constant, and kind.
A Sense Of Belonging
When every employee feels cared for and respected, it automatically creates a sense of belonging and togetherness amongst colleagues. Work bonding is a result of empathetic communication and it mimics the dynamics of a family, working towards the same goal, and having each other’s backs.
Empathy skills promote employee productivity as well. There is an emergence of a high level of awareness that leads to newer insights. Brainstorming new ideas to meet new goals is highly efficient in a workplace where empathy and leadership go hand in hand.
Skills of an Empathetic Leader
Empathy for leaders can be tricky to follow sometimes and may require conscious behavioral changes to stay consistent. Here are some attributes an empathetic leader needs to have:
A leader who constantly checks up on their employees or team members is a great leader. Showing genuine interest in employees’ thoughts, feelings, and overall well-being goes a long way in practicing empathetic leadership in a workplace.
Listening to the team members’ needs and concerns, making sure they feel comfortable in the work environment, and making sure that they aren’t facing any challenges at work are some conscious efforts an empathetic leader should make.
Another important attribute of good leadership is flexibility. For instance:
- Arriving at a solution that favors the entire team.
- Adherence to deadlines but allowing the extra time that some members may need.
- Validating new ideas and giving due credit to the team members.
Leadership is not just about chasing success but also about handling criticism and failures well. If a project goes down the drain, instead of shouting at the employees and making them feel terrible, embracing failures, and motivating the team to strive for better next time are empathetic alternatives.
Empathetic leadership is also about listening to the team members’ needs and acting on solutions together. Involving everybody in a conversation and providing a platform for everybody to present their opinions is crucial. A good leader is also someone who constantly seeks feedback from both team members and clients, to ensure that all stakeholders are accounted for.
Ways To Demonstrate Empathetic Leadership In A Workplace
Apart from the attributes that a leader needs to have to ensure empathy in the workplace, here are some tips to show that a workplace is practicing empathetic leadership:
Be On The Constant Lookout
Probably the easiest way to figure out if something is working efficiently or not is to observe it closely, for a while. Extrapolating the concept to the workplace, continually looking for things that may go wrong can make identifying them extremely easy. And since the first step to rectifying the mistake is to identify it, this approach helps eliminate feuds among colleagues in the workplace.
Looking out for the employees and constantly checking in on them to see how are they handling the workload and stress is crucial to avoid employee burnout or turnover. Managers skilled in empathetic leadership can recognize such signs to help people recover from their overwork by giving them a day off or sharing the workload with the rest of the team.
Help Employees With Personal Problems
The easiest way to build bonds based on trust is by offering mental and professional support to the employees through their tough times. It is in no way going to interfere with the professional work culture but shows the employees that you care for their well-being. Having open conversations about personal lives and providing them emotional support are some essential qualities an empathetic leader has.
Empathetic leaders also show compassion when team members open up about a personal loss. Since every team member is going to have personal problems of their own, the workload share is almost equal for everyone. Constant feedback mechanisms work well, making way for open and honest communication.
Training Managers In Empathetic Leadership
Empathy comes naturally to some people and does not to others. Fortunately, it can be learned. Empathy is both a skill and a trait, and everyone can learn and acquire it. Here are some tips on how to incorporate empathetic leadership in any business:
Integrate Empathy Into Your Core Values
Every business has a set of core values that are shared by all the employees. During the onboarding training, emphasize your company work culture and train employees to follow your core values. Talking about the importance of empathy and how much you follow empathetic leadership (from the CEO down to level one managers) in every tier of your business is important. Explain that giving time and attention to others’ feelings, instead of an authoritative approach are examples of empathy in a workplace.
Teach Listening Skills And Perspective Thinking
Empathetic leadership is nothing without listening skills and perspective thinking. Training the employees in the soft skills required to foster empathy is crucial. Active listening is key to knowing that people are being heard and training the team members regarding the same contributes to empathetic leadership in a workplace.
When a manager is a good listener and thinks from different perspectives to understand scenarios better, people feel respected. Active listening indicates focusing on the meaning behind the words instead of the words themselves. And coupled with gauging facial expressions and non-verbal communication.
Final Words on Empathetic Leadership
Most companies often overlook empathy which leads to overwhelmingly negative work culture and eventual burnout in employees. Some people think of empathy as a sign of weakness. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Empathy is and always will be, one of the most important traits a leader should have.
Empathetic leadership can create a positive work experience and environment. It is prudent to say that the intersection of empathy and leadership leads to better employee management and engagement.