Here's how empathy makes leadership effective
An organization is as successful as its people. Building a team of highly motivated and goal driven individuals is imperative for business leaders in order to achieve the objectives of growth and profitability. While leaders have traditionally adopted a strategic, rational and tough approach to get the desired results, the current business scenario also calls for a different leadership style - one that embodies kindness, compassion, and empathy.
To stay ahead in a competitive environment, business leaders are required to focus on building and managing effective workplace relationships to enhance employee productivity. Empathy lays the foundation for building such strong positive engagements that make the employees feel valued and empower them to tap their full potential. In a workplace, empathy goes a long way in winning the trust of employees and imparting them the confidence that the business exists for collective success rather than the well-being of a select few.
Empathy: Putting others ahead
Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs. It allows us to comprehend what the other person is going through, even if we do not necessarily agree with their perceptions. At the workplace, nurturing a culture of care and empathy is important to make the employees feel respected and motivate them to accomplish outstanding results. The responsibility to ensure all employees put their best foot forward lies with the team leaders who, by practicing empathy, can break through barriers to accomplish common goals. Various studies have established a positive correlation between empathy and increased revenue and improved performance.
There are two aspects of empathy that a leader must be aware of to bring a change in the organization –
Importance of Empathy
Empathy from leaders can work wonders for the team members by helping to:
- Improve Productivity
Leaders can devise effective strategies to motivate their employees by understanding the rationale behind their actions. A simple example could be identifying the reason why a team member, who always adhere to timelines, has suddenly started missing the deadlines. This behavior could be the outcome of the employee feeling overburdened or perceiving a lack of appreciation for the work done. Insight into the behavior of team members can help the leader take corrective actions and help the employees feel motivated. A motivated employee is more creative in identifying innovative solutions and brings in more efficiency in business processes to improve overall business productivity.
- Build Trust
Efforts by a leader to understand the perspective of team members impart them the confidence to openly share and discuss their ideas. Managers who respect and accept the point of view of their team members, rather than forcing their opinions, build strong work relationships and increase collaborations. Employees trust such leaders to support them in their journey to success and like to work with them to expand their contribution to the business. When employees start trusting that their individual success and organizational success are equally important for their managers, they feel confident to receive due credit for their work and put in the best efforts to accomplish growth.
- Retain Talent & Nurture Future Leaders
According to a survey, building a leadership pipeline is ranked as the fourth biggest HR Game Changer. Scouting for the right talent and sharpening the leadership skills of the existing workforce becomes crucial to building a sustainable pipeline of future leaders at all level. Empathy of the senior leaders plays a crucial role in making the employees freely embrace the corporate vision and ‘Run the extra mile’ to accomplish the goals. Subsequently, it helps employee put in more efforts for the entire team to succeed. The current workforce also becomes the best source of word-of-the-mouth advertising for attracting fresh talent. This makes talent acquisition and retention easier for an organization by bringing down the attrition rate and establishing a strong talent base in place for continual growth.
Art of Empathy
All human beings possess natural capability to empathize. If we are at home, it comes naturally where we empathize with the family members; seldom do we pay attention while we are in a working environment. With regular practice, this cognitive attribute can be strengthened to improve inter-personal relationships at workplace. To exercise empathy, one must:
- Look within
Self-awareness and discipline are the keys to understand a perspective that is different from ours. We react to situations as per our own innate tendencies which might not always be the right approach. Exercising restraint on our natural tendencies so as to hear the other person with an open mind is crucial for practicing empathy. This becomes all the more critical in workplace situations. A simple example would be how a leader normally reacts when someone counters her/his point of view. If the natural reaction is aggression, then the leader needs to be mindful of her/his reaction when dealing with the team members. Drawing from personal experiences also helps in fine-tuning the art of empathy. Remembering how a certain encounter with your boss or peers in the past made you feel will help you to be more considerate in your current interactions.
- Listen to understand
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to react. The key trait of an emphatic leader is her/his capability to listen attentively to the team members with an intent to understand their issues. Paying attention to non-verbal cues is as important as heeding the words spoken during a conversation. Putting aside your phone, observing the tone of your voice and body language, can help you give full attention and forge stronger ties with the team members. Asking the right questions and spending more time on listening than talking develop a deeper understanding and establish common grounds to work towards defined goals.
Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs. It allows us to comprehend what the other person is going through, even if we do not necessarily agree with their perceptions. At the workplace, nurturing a culture of care and empathy is important to make the employees feel respected and motivate them to accomplish outstanding results.
- Meaningful engagement
Most employees shy away from opening up to their managers because any inter-personal conversation is regarded as stepping out of the professional boundaries. The onus to make the employees feel comfortable lies with the manager in such cases. A smile, a friendly hello, a nod of acknowledgment helps an employee to warm up to their leaders. Showing interest in the life of team members’ help leaders to strengthen their bonds. While a leader is not required to become best friends with the team members or talk about highly personal matters, a healthy interaction and engagement can help leaders determine the factors that drive an employee and also those that prevent her/him from tapping the true potential.
Leaders, today, work to leave a lasting impact on the businesses they are associated with and create a strong recall for their contributions. By practicing ‘Empathy’ a leader can achieve this stature as this virtue empowers a leader to excel at leading others, work towards collective success and create something meaningful.