Why leading with empathy is so important.
In Slade Group’s Core Strength research about most sought-after employee attributes through COVID-19, empathy took a back seat to ‘here and now survival’ skills.
Make no mistake, empathy has jumped back into the driver’s seat in 2021.
Daniel Goleman in his recent article, speaks to the importance of self-awareness. This includes a highly developed sense of empathy that allows you to see a situation from the other person’s point of view; this enables you to present your position in a way that makes a person feel heard, or that speaks to their own interests.
Post COVID in Australia, organisations need managers and leaders who can respond to the changed work environment with competencies beyond those traditionally sought. It is now recognised that one of those skills is empathy: successful leaders will have the ability to engage and work with people across a broad spectrum of skills, backgrounds and cultures.
It is important to recognise that there are three different kinds of empathy, and each resides in different parts of the brain.
- Cognitive: I know how you think
- Emotional: I know how you feel
- Concern: I care about you
There are managers who are very good at the first two, but not the third, without which they can be easily used to manipulate people. We see this in many overachieving bosses in command-and-control cultures who tend to be pacesetters – often promoted because they have very high personal standards of excellence. They are great at pushing people to make short-term targets; they communicate well because of the cognitive empathy and know their words will carry weight with their employees because of their emotional empathy. However, because they lack empathetic concern, they care little about the human costs of their actions. This can lead to staff suffering emotional exhaustion and burnout.
How can a manager demonstrate empathy in the workplace?
- In this post COVID environment, recognise signs of overwork before burnout becomes an issue; many people are finding it difficult to separate work from home life. Spend some time each week checking in.
- Take time to understand the needs and goals of staff, who are more likely to be more engaged if their manager is seen as taking a sincere interest in them.
- Keep open lines of communication, encourage transparency and demonstrate a willingness to help an employee with personal problems.
- Show compassion, genuine connections and friendships at work matter; act empathetically and let your people know they are supported.
Fortunately, like all Emotional Intelligence competencies, empathy can be learned and managers can develop and enhance their empathy skills through coaching and training and by organisations encouraging a more empathetic workplace.