The Power of Empathy in Leadership
In this day and age, workplace toxicity is more rampant than ever—eradicating trust among team members and creating a dispirited environment. Employees either suffer in silence or in the worst-case scenario, spiral into depression and eventually resign. So how does one go about addressing workplace toxicity? Experts have noted that toxic behaviours tend to stem from a lack of empathy between superiors and their subordinates. Like speaking to employees in a harsh manner because of a demanding client or making a callous remark undermining a team member’s efforts. That said, empathy should not be confused with people-pleasing tactics like wanting to be seen as “nice.”
Unfortunately, not everyone is equipped with the aptitude to sense the feelings and emotions of others, it is behaviour that needs to be nurtured. Empathy, also known as “vicarious introspection,” is one of the most underrated leadership skills, as others like strategic thinking, change management and the ability to execute are often more highly prized. Yet, the capacity to be able to relate to others can inspire and empower a team to greater heights. There is nothing “soft” about trying to see things from an employee’s perspective. In fact, by putting yourself in another person’s shoes, you may galvanise your team to deliver better results. Here are five reasons why empathy should not be overlooked in business.
Employees will perform better naturally if they feel connected to their leader. The key to strengthening the bond with your team members and to fostering a cohesive environment is by demonstrating that you care—taking into account each employee’s feelings and emotions at work. When everyone believes that they are treated as an asset, this can create a positive ripple effect in the company’s culture, thereby increasing teamwork and productivity.
Empathy means listening attentively without judgement, and with compassion. Take the time to listen to your staff, and notice how they will open up more by sharing their frank views without the need for self-censorship. When you give them a safe space to voice out opinions, they might float new ideas to you in conversation or offer suggestions on how to innovate and improve processes. Workers tend to be more motivated to be creative, take risks and perform to the best of their abilities under an understanding boss.
If a worker has been falling sick frequently, perhaps it is time to do a check-in and enquire about the underlying cause. Could stress and working long hours be taking a toll on their health? Avoid being too hasty in making assumptions that your employee is trying to slack off. Instead, show concern by offering to get a colleague to cover their work and suggest a full body medical check-up. Another way to display care for your subordinates is to ask them how you as a superior can help them if you notice them struggling. When workers feel undervalued, they may leave the organisation to find better job satisfaction. In the long run, this could lead to the loss of talented staff.
Greater Job Satisfaction
Make an effort to get to know your staff and show a keen interest in their backgrounds, aspirations and even issues they may be facing. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What’s wrong?” This question shows that you care and are trying to understand the root of the problem. When employees know that a leader has their well-being at heart, they will feel more compelled to produce good work and even take on extra responsibilities. Ultimately, the growth of an organisation hinges on its workers. Therefore, the most effective leaders pay attention and are committed to their welfare by making them feel appreciated through little ways like verbal compliments, non-cash incentives and recognition awards. Take a leaf from Google and Facebook’s book, where they have perks like onsite cafeterias, providing complimentary meals to ensure that staff do not go hungry.
When we can view things from a different perspective, we gain new and precious insight into how another person might be thinking. Employers can use this as a gauge to measure the emotions of their employees, thus enabling them to communicate more tactfully to diffuse a situation. Empathetic bosses also acknowledge that people perceive things differently and know when to adjust their tone accordingly to avoid potential conflict. Remember that the most successful organisations like Microsoft have leaders who are able to walk a mile in their employees’ shoes and put others ahead of themselves.