Leadership has always been a hot topic within the world of business but perhaps not as much as it is in 2021. There is a growing belief that leadership has not only drastically changed from previous generations, but has shifted in style in the last twelve months. This belief has only been emphasised by the stress of the COVID-pandemic, the new work from home culture and a shift from the task economy to problem solving economy. This has presented numerous problems, with the biggest being that existing managers trained in traditional management styles from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s need to upskill and develop a different leadership style. Organisations are now looking for leaders with much different leadership styles than those they did 5-10 years ago. Whilst many skills are essential in this new leadership style, empathy is the one that stands above the rest.
In the past, empathy had been regarded as a "weak" skill but from a leadership perspective, it has never been more important. Empathy is as described by John Eades about "how well you identify with others to understand their feelings and perceptions in order to guide your actions." Simply put, it is about putting yourself in the eyes of another and acting differently based on those feelings. If a member of your team feels understood, they are going to trust and confide in you.
So, how can you lead with empathy? Here's 3 key points I have taken from John Eades.
1. Listen Like Your Life Depends On It
Empathy is about listening and feeling with them. Although this has become a much harder task working from home, there are still simple strategies that leaders can put into place to make sure that not only do their team feel understood, but also that they're being listened to. Start by asking questions away from their work life, get to understand their pains from a personal perspective (if they're willing to open up) and allow them to understand that it is a safe environment. Be present with your team and truly listen to what they are saying - don't listen for the sake of being an "empathetic leader", you must listen, feel with them and solve the problems with them. That is what truly distinguishes a empathetic leader from a "listener".
2. Fulfil Each Team Members Most Basic Work Needs
A highly empathetic leader will get ahead of someone's negative feelings. They will set out measures that cover each team members most basic work needs and allows them to know that "I understand you." Each individual reacts differently, which is where the true art of empathy comes in. You must truly get to know your team and know what makes each individual tick, otherwise one team member may feel fulfilled but another may feel completely out of place. Simple ways of doing this can be making sure each team member is engaged and feels like they have a strong workload, incorporating team sessions so members feel a sense of connection and togetherness or it can be as simple as showing appreciation for work ethic and the effort your team are putting in. Each one of these thinks about the individual and promotes a sense of community, whilst fulfilling the basic work needs of all your team.
3. Demonstrate An Ability To Help (Especially When It's Not Convenient)
Most good people are willing to help someone. However, a true empathetic leader will help someone even if it is quite inconvenient at that present time. Why? Because instead of talking about helping, you should be actively helping. Stepping up and helping a team member will be a pleasant surprise for them and show that you "get" them. Something as simple as acting on what you are preaching will show a great deal of empathy. As mentioned before, any leader can say they are "listening" and "will help" but a true empathetic leader acts on those words and acts differently because of it.
Leadership will continue to evolve and as we settle into a new normal and different cultures and ways of working, it is important that leaders keep in tune with these skills. Empathy will continue to grow in importance and you must make sure that you are putting in the work to step up and demonstrate empathy to your team. Because not only are you helping your team, you are going to see the productivity levels rise and with productivity, comes better results.
While many skills are essential in this new leadership era, empathy is one standing above the rest.