Leading With Empathy

“Empathy is about being concerned about the human being, not just about the output.” — Simon Sinek

At Blue Beyond, we believe that empathy is key to successfully leading individuals, teams, and whole organizations. Leading with empathy is invaluable in good times and essential in challenging times.

With many teams still working remotely and others starting to return to the office, you may need to consider different demands:

  • Teams working virtually may find it harder to collaborate and connect with colleagues who are back in the office
  • Some may still be working with kids (or spouses) at home
  • Others may be dealing with anxiety about illness or financial security

And not everyone is experiencing the same things at the same time, or in the same way. It’s a huge challenge for any leader.

Showing up with empathy — the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, to see from their perspective — is especially important right now. Having a pulse on your team is the best way (and maybe the only way) to meet the needs of people, so they can respond to the needs of the business.

There are a few key practices you can focus on to strengthen your ability to lead with empathy:

Be curious and listen deeply

Show openness to new perspectives and ideas, and a willingness to understand more about the experiences of those you work with. Listening deeply allows you not only to learn the facts, but to recognize the feelings that may go along with them. Curiosity and listening make it possible for you to continuously connect and empathize. When you build a culture with curiosity and deep listening, you and your team can learn your way through any challenge.

Show humility and self-awareness 

Especially in challenging times, your teams are looking to you for any clarity and direction you can provide. They’re also looking for you to be human. You don’t have all the answers (and don’t need to by yourself, either). It’s okay to admit when you don’t know, and to share your concerns and frustrations. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s healthy to notice, name, and share your own feelings. And it’s critical to be transparent about challenges. But also — share your hopes, your commitments, and your desire to create solutions together. You’ll build trust through your openness and invitation to your team to learn and solve problems together.

 

Invest in building relationships

Empathetic leaders are genuinely invested in people. They know what’s important to team members, what sets them up for success, and how to support them when they’re experiencing a learning curve or under stress. Invest time in getting to know your team, and encourage them to get to know each other. This can happen in a variety of ways every day — from 1-on-1 check-ins, to spending a few minutes at the beginning of meetings to see how everyone is doing/feeling, to spending concentrated time together in team activities. One easy way to do this is by building time into team meetings to ask each other questions about your lives, e.g., What led you to be in your current role? What and who are important to you? What brings you joy? Investing time in this practice regularly helps build trust and deepen relationships.

Set expectations and give feedback

Leading with empathy does not mean being soft on expectations or results. In fact, just the opposite. Because empathic leaders know the strengths and learning opportunities of those they work with, they also know that clear expectations, coaching, and feedback are essential to individual and team success. Empathic leaders help the team and each individual on the team deliver on expectations, navigate challenges, take ownership, and learn from failures. They see people in their accomplishments and their struggles, and feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to their learning.

Build a culture of empathy – it takes a team

Empathy has to be experienced to be learned. Fortunately, when a leader thinks, feels, and acts with empathy, it encourages others to do the same. This is important, because the full value and lift from empathy comes when it is a shared value and common behavior within a team, or even better, within an organization. It is a demonstrated catalyst for creativity, innovation, and engagement. Lead with compassion, understanding, presence, and gratitude, and you will grow your organization into a place where employees can – and want to – do their best work.

Help your team navigate change with our virtual, change communications training.

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