Everyone’s talking about: Leading with Empathy

If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us about leadership, it is that empathy is a key competency of any successful leader, and this is a trend that will continue for leaders of the future.

With an ongoing pandemic bringing new challenges to employees and businesses alike it is no surprise that empathy is more important now than ever. Having an empathetic leader can have many benefits for employees including increased productivity, increased psychological safety and a greater sense of security. The ability to understand the feelings and perspectives of those around us, considering things from another’s frame of reference is what we are talking about here and that comes more naturally to some leaders than it does to others.

The good news is we can all increase our ability to show empathy, it is a skill that can be learnt. In this article, we will explore ways to enhance our ability to lead with empathy.

1.   Actually listen

Listening is the most important skill we need to increase our empathy, and one that most of us consider we are good at. What we are really talking about here then, is listening to understand rather than listening to respond (which is what we tend to do as humans).

In his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Steven Covey notes that to be effective we must “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. To be a really skilled listener, we must be mindful in our approach and pull ourselves back into the conversation when we notice we are thinking about how to reply, or what question to ask next. When we are really listening, we can expect some silences in conversation as we need to hear everything that person has to say before we come back with any form of response. Otherwise, we may miss, or assume part of the communication.

Some key areas to start with are making sure not to interrupt, removing any distractions and repeating back what someone has said in your own words to check full understanding!

2.   Be holistic

It is important to remember that everyone is human! We all make mistakes and at times we don’t deal with stress in the most effective way. A key part of leading with empathy is understanding exactly that and to practice compassion regularly. Not only are we talking about practicing compassion with your team but also yourself. One way we can practice compassion is by giving ourselves the space we need to re-charge and relax to step away from situations that cause overwhelm and manage our mental and physical health.

3.   Gain perspective

Gaining perspective is about seeing the bigger picture and evaluating where we place value. For example, with our short-term lens the late completion of a project might seem incredibly inconvenient or chaotic. However, with our longer-term lens the delay of a project might have had minimal impact but more importantly it may have highlighted that team members needed up-skilling, or a more efficient process needed implementing.  

We are dealing with continuous change throughout our work and personal lives. Sometimes, when change appears challenging, we can forget to lead with empathy. As we begin 2021, lets practice empathy more regularly and more obviously to ourselves and our team, ensuring we embed it into our leadership style.

This blog was produced by Charlotte Burton-Barker, Behavioural Consultant at Adaptis. Charlotte is educated to masters level in Occupational Psychology, using knowledge of the human behavioural change process to inform the design and delivery of development programmes and workshops.