Empathetic Leadership

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting to leaders at a large organization whose name most of us are familiar with. Even with my background in corporate America and a successful speaking career, it was a daunting task. Bringing up the notion of empathetic leadership during times of change could have gone one of two ways. If this didn’t work, if I didn’t receive good feedback and interaction within the first 10 minutes, the next 2 ½ hours were going to be brutal. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case!

The women and men were interested in learning more, passionate about supporting their staff, grow business and providing great customer service!

I mentioned three ways that were proven to help leaders lead with empathy, compassion and courage.

1-Your peers. Approach with positive intent, listen, discuss. Try not to be aggressive and learn. This means asking questions before engaging in work business as the last 2+ years have been unbelievably challenging for everyone. Remembering this is essential to allowing empathy to find its way into conversations. And, directly or subconsciously, we can taste sincerity and spot BS. So, please be sincere, care by listening and offer advice when asked. This is empathy. This shows you care. This is what leadership looks like in 2022.

2- A shift in leadership style is here and some organizations and leaders are fighting the change. They will lose! And, they’ll lose staff who don’t like their manager’s inflexibility, lack of empathy and draconian rules.

Today’s successful leaders understand that their team changes and adapts every year. They too must learn to shift their leadership skills with more focus on individual employees and their needs. This is today’s workplace and staff retention will grow if leaders are trained to listen, understand and show compassion and empathy. Gen Z and Millennials want this and most employees, regardless of their generation, agree. If this feel too ‘touchy feely’ to you I understand. If you’re rolling your eyes, I get it. However, if you’re willing to adjust, pivot and stay agile as an empathetic leader you are positioning yourself to lead successful teams for years to come! And, the shift will be noticeable. More smiling, better communications, increased retention and productivity are just some of the benefits you’ll notice in staff’s behavior.

3- Shhhhh. Listen. Repeat. Apparently, the word has spread across organizations and leadership. However, it needs to become part of all leaders’ skillset. I encouraged the leadership I recently presented to become active listeners. “Learn to listen better”, I said, and your employees will show appreciation in many positive ways. “I know that this works,” I went on to explain because thousands of folks just like you in all levels at work have mentioned this, or flat out told me so, during Q&A at events.

Here’s how it works. We listen without offering suggestions to ‘fix’ a problem or offer up a solution. We’re simply present. Looking each other in the eyes and being there for the other person(s). The advantages are tremendous and include:

1- Knowledge sharing

2- Connection

3- Building trust

4- Essential information that helps you lead better at work

5- Personal information you did not know

6- Retention

7-Ability to act on a problem/issue that can affect employees before it gets worse

The finest leader of people I’ve ever me is my wife Meg. Don’t take my word for it, just ask those she manages or managed. To the person, most will tell you that she puts the interests of the individual at the same level as the company. In doing so, people feel empowered, speak up, share information and are better equipped to do their jobs. She also armed me with this important line that has served me well over the years. Before giving advice, she’ll often say “I have a thought, idea that I believe will help. May I share it with you?” This opens up discussion, creates an even playing field and allows individual to lower their guard and share. It’s a win-win.

How we decide to lead in 2022 will have a direct impact on employee retention, productivity and mental health. Empathy is easy if you’re wired for it and challenging if you’re not. It’s okay to Google ways to improve as it only takes one or two small changes to see that it works.


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