3 Strategies To Lead With Empathy
Did you ever think a virus could so drastically disrupt our marketplace? If the last 18-months have taught us nothing else it is that our lives, our health, our businesses can change at a moment’s notice.
No one thought this pandemic would go on this long, and that nearly two years later we would still be dealing with mask mandates, social distancing and a delta variant. In the beginning, we all seemed to pull together, have this adrenaline rush and the energy to push through what we need to push through. Now, most of us are wondering if this will ever end. And as leaders we have to understand that people, our team members, are exhausted.
While everyday we have new challenges at work – labor shortages, supply chain issues and rising costs. It seems to pale in comparison to the challenges most are dealing with at home.
Again, after 18-months our team members are still trying to navigate their own health issues as well of those of family members, help their children adapt to the pressures these changes are making in their lives, and deal with their own fear of what uncertainty lies around the next corner.
These are challenging times for sure. If there is one thing our team members need right now it is a leader. Someone who provides a safe place to come where they feel confident that they can get their job done and do it well. Someone they trust they can be open and honest about what they are going through. And a leader they can rely on to both understand, and provide them with the tools and emotional support they need to continue to navigate the challenges of home and work.
Strong leadership has never been more important. This is a tough labor market, and there is a war on talent that the employees are winning. Talk to any business owner, Executive or CEO and ask what their biggest challenges are and one of the first they will bring up is labor.
Finding people, hiring people, retaining people – it seems to be never ending. Face it – you need good employees more than they need you. And if you want to win this war on talent, you have to understand that how you lead, how your entire leadership team leads, it matters.
Empathy is one of the most important skills you can have right now as a leader. If you can create a culture where people feel heard, understood, and well supported, you have increased your chances of not only retaining key talent but attracting others that want to work in an environment like that.
A new study of more than 800 employees by Catalyst found that leaders who show empathy in the workplace increase engagement, employee retention and innovation. Key areas needed for success in today’s marketplace.
So how do you lead with empathy? How do you create an environment like that? Here are three strategies every leader needs:
- Personal Connection – take the time to get to know your team members. Time is the key part of this, this is not a one and done type of meeting. Invest the time regularly to check-in with them. See how their families are doing, what they did over the weekend, and what new hobbies or sports they are picking up.
Investing this type of time builds trust and opens the door for more communication. Ensuring that when and if your team members need support or help, they will know they can come to you.
This past week, I was working with an Executive Team on Succession Planning. Well that was what our overall objective was – to build the plan for next level leaders. But when we started the event, it was clear the team did not have the bond of connection among one another let alone with their direct reports.
So we took some of this precious meeting time, and invested in relationship building. We knocked off at five, and went to a local brewery and hung out. Did not talk work at all, just laughed, had some fun, learned about one another’s personal lives. The next night we took a cooking class, learned who had the skills to cook and who did not. Then we sat down and did one of the most important things people who want to connect can do – share a meal.
So take the time to learn about and get to know your team. Invest in them and they will invest in you.
- Holistic Communication – 85% of your success in life comes down to your ability to communicate with others. Yes, that is right, just 15% of your success is based on your technical ability. If you want to lead with empathy, you have to learn to communicate.
Communication is much more than the words that we speak, our team members are telling us what they need with the tone of their voice, their body language, and sometimes the loudest way they communicate is by saying nothing at all.
As a leader, you need to learn to read the signs. If someone’s performance changes – for the good or the bad – you need to know why. If all of a sudden they are showing up late to work, or they seem to be less productive, you need to seek first to understand.
Taking the time to invest in your emotional intelligence, understanding how you communicate, how your team members communicate, and what is most effective for each member of your team will go a long way in making sure that people on your team feel heard and understood.
- Flexible Accountability – and last but not least empathetic leaders create an environment of flexible accountability. Structure, in times of uncertainty, makes people feel safe and somewhat in control amidst the chaos. By providing that structure and accountability you actually provide your team with something they really need in order to make progress and succeed.
But at the same time you need to be flexible with that accountability. Understanding, that given outside pressures or changes in their personal lives, even top performers may fall backwards a little bit.
As the empathetic leader, you need to strike the balance of ensuring you build a strong culture of accountability, but one with a little room for team members to, at times, put personal needs above workplace needs.
Leadership today is not easy, but this is one of those times when it is more important than ever. Using these strategies to help you create an environment where your employees feel heard, understood and well positioned for success, is the best chance you have to help your team, your company and your customers navigate this marketplace successfully.