During these uncertain times, we have all faced a form of underlying stress. Whether it is work worries, financial concerns, anxiety from change or facing a global pandemic, these times are mostly certainly testing everyone. There has been a renewed urgency to acknowledge where we are fortunate and show empathy to those who have struggled. As leaders, it is important to recognise that nearly everyone is suffering from a loss from this pandemic - be it the tragic loss of a loved one, a significant financial loss or the loss of our usual daily aspects of live. And because of this, empathy has never had more relevance than it does right now.
Empathetic leadership is characterised by actively listening to your team, understanding and relating to their problems, making room for their voices and viewpoints and most importantly, caring for them as a person. As most of the world has transitioned to some form of remote working, this leadership style has become just as important as any. In today's world, leaders must possess the interpersonal skills to drive and motivate their teams and that begins by being open, honest and readily available. Simply put, keeping your team at the centre of everything you do as a leader is integral to success.
Here are three tips for how to lead with empathy whilst working through the challenges the global pandemic has caused us:
1. Acknowledge how you and your team are feeling
You never really know how someone is feeling and what they are dealing with through the phone or a video call. They could be finding childcare responsibilities hard to deal with, they could be unable to see family members or they may be isolated alone - with no real connection to the outside world. More so than ever, now is the time to take a step back and ask how your team are feeling. Communicate on an individual basis and ask them how they feel, what are they worried about, how can you help etc. Be open about your own experiences and how you feel too, let them know that they are not alone and that you understand. This type of vulnerability will bring your team closer together, promote trust and make for a happier and productive workforce in general.
2. Listen and respond honestly
It's okay to ask how someone is feeling, but the art of asking that question is to truly listen once it is being answered. The only way your team will show any vulnerability with you is if you learn to listen without judgement but respond to exactly what they are saying. You have to be careful of the words you are using and how you respond accordingly to your team. You want them to feel heard, not ignored when you gently move the conversation in a more positive and optimistic direction.
3. Be Human
This may seem quite obvious and straightforward, but it is the most important and deliberate aspect of being an empathetic leader. It is about taking the time to speak with your team about more than just work - ask them how their family and friends are, ask them what they are looking forward to, what plans they have etc. So often, we can find ourselves rushing through these questions as small talk at the beginning of meetings, but it's important to really make these questions meaningful and encourage your team to be open. Being human also means that you recognise your team members as holisitic individuals - and more than just an employee. Our colleagues are friends, family, neighbors to others first and foremost, and deserve to be treated in that same vain whilst they're working.
The pandemic has certainly put everything into perspective and allowed many leaders to rethink their leadership style and how they move forward with their teams. Empathetic leaders who can take the time to check in on their team, reflect on how everyone feels and challenge their own perspectives will be positioned to transition out of the pandemic a lot stronger and more connected than ever before.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put everything into perspective and required change in every facet of how we do business, including leadership. Empathetic leaders who make time to reflect, check-in with their team, and challenge their own perspectives will be able to transition out of the pandemic stronger and more connected than before.