While everyone wants a friend who is empathetic, some will not consider that to be a necessary work skill/habit. If that includes you, I hope you will continue reading. Here is my premise: an empathetic leader is a remarkable leader. The times we live in underscore this premise and actually allow (or force?) many leaders to work on this skill. If you are working on it, or realize that you should, I will give you some steps to continue (or start) your journey.
Why Empathy Matters for Leaders
Empathy is a human skill – a skill that allows us to connect with others, build understanding, and both extend and produce trust. Empathy builds relationships and improves communication. Look at that list of things that come as a result of empathy:
All of those things are needed at work and desired from a leader. Stated another way, if you have a leader who does creates more of these things, are you more or less likely to choose to follow them?
How to Become an Empathetic Leader
Here are six things you can do starting right now to become a more empathetic leader.
- Think person before project. If as the leader you start the conversation by going immediately to the project, the tasks and the to do lists, there will likely be little time or opportunity for the conversation to turn towards the individual and their situation, thoughts and feelings.As the leader you set the tone and agenda for most all conversations, even informal calls or office pop-ins. If you want to understand how people are doing, you must start with the personal and interpersonal topics first. Otherwise, time and focus won’t likely allow that conversation to happen.
- Start conversations with questions. Empathy comes using your ears more than your lips. And if you want to create conversation – especially when you are the boss, start with questions. Questions set the tone and subconsciously let the other person know you want their input, and that the conversation can be about more than just the work. Consider questions like:
- How are you doing? (Not the casual version people ask when greeting each other, the version where you are making eye contact to show you really want to know.)
- What is working?
- Where are you struggling? (Not just about the work here either – but working to understand how work is fitting into their life.)
- What is harder/easier than it has been in the past?
- How can I help you right now?
- Be curious and don’t judge. If you haven’t asked these types of questions regularly, people may wonder about your motives. Remember that the goal of empathy is understanding, not judgement or solutions. You are asking questions not to pry, but to better understand so you can be of help. Ask with curiosity. Ask patiently. Ask expectantly. Don’t ask so you can solve, at least not immediately, and certainly not without their permission. Which leads to the next point.
- Shut up and listen. If you want to understand how others are doing you can’t be talking. Check your intentions, ask questions and listen. This act alone doe regularly and well will change your relationships and build trust with your team member.
- Create psychological safety. Empathetic leadership can’t exist without psychological safety. If people see conversations beyond “the work and the weather” as risky with you, they won’t share their feelings, challenges or even positive emotions and circumstances. If people don’t feel psychologically safe, they wont share. As they feel safer, the conversations that create empathy and build relationships will grow.
- Follow-up. Empathetic leadership isn’t created with one interaction or happen immediately because you apply these steps. As people begin to share things with you, remember what they shared. Treat subsequent conversations as a part of an ongoing dialogue, not a chance to just ask questions again. Refer back to challenges. Connect new conversations to previous ones. Empathy grows when you do this, and if your intentions are questioned as you start applying these ideas, your follow-up and consistency will melt suspicions away, just as the warm sun melts ice.I’ll repeat my premise: an empathetic leader is a remarkable leader. As you apply these ideas and make it a part of how you lead, you and your team will be richly rewarded.
Empathy is just one of the leadership skills we focus on when we begin a coaching relationship together. Find out more about my coaching philosophy, and if it’s a good fit, let’s get together and start working on your journey toward Remarkable Leadership.
Contact us here or call 317-398-1424 x12 to ask your questions or to get started.