Empathy can be an overlooked leadership skill. Colene Rogers examines how and why you need empathy in your leadership skillset.
We don’t come to the world as unbiased reporters; we see it through a lens of our own making.
Ken Keyes Jr. said, “A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror.” In other words, your attitude about others is really a reflection of yourself.
If true, this presents a kind of chicken and egg situation. Does a person love because they were first loved by another? Or do they love despite a world that has treated them harshly. The question is not a useless one; people often experience transformation only after they identify conditions that influenced their thinking in the first place. Seeing it truthfully, they can make a more positive choice.
Each one of us has a lifetime of experiences and decisions that have shaped who we are, which then determine what we see in others. That said, we are notorious for spotting the faults of others while ignoring our own. Our challenge has always been to see ourselves and others honestly.
If we remove from our consideration, the hopelessly and helplessly bad, and consider the imperfect people who remain, I believe this: there is plenty of good and plenty of less-than-good to see in every person. The question is one of lens and focus, do you want to live in a hostile world or a loving world?
tHE lEADERSHIP SKILL OF EMPATHY
Theodore Roosevelt is credited for saying, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Many desires that employees have about their job can be satisfied by a supervisor who genuinely cares for them. Caring for another person is not possible without empathy.
Empathy is the ability to appreciate the needs of another person and be mindful of their feelings, thoughts, and day-to-day challenges. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them; it just means making an honest effort to understand what they are experiencing.
I was on a coaching call with a sales manager when he started to express frustration with his supervisor. She was making decisions that were negatively affecting the performance of his team. What was a great working relationship had morphed into a loss of trust.
With each question I asked, we peeled back the onion. He eventually identified a previous misunderstanding between the two of them where she had incorrectly assumed he was responsible for a mishap. When she confronted him, he was able to show that was not the case. Yet he thought she was still holding him responsible.
I encouraged him, for the sake of the relationship and the company, to get outside of his own interpretation of events, and try to understand what his supervisor might be thinking and feeling. His assumptions, potentially false, were affecting how he now thought of his boss, something I write about in my blog, A Collaborative Mindset: The Key to Preventing and Resolving Conflict. To his credit, he was able to see that everything his supervisor was doing to supposedly hold him back, had a more positive explanation to consider and not rule out.
organizational benefits of empathetic leadership
John Maxwell says “people quit people, not companies.” When leaders demonstrate empathy, their direct reports are more satisfied with their job and more likely to stay. This helps the bottom line. But empathetic leaders benefit organizations and the bottom line in other ways also.
- At the end of the day, supervisors are expected to get results. The pressure to produce in a highly competitive marketplace can create a very results driven culture. The leadership skill of empathy allows supervisors to not lose sight of employee needs as they push for results.
- Empathetic leaders can expect empathy in return. Reasonable people are ready to reciprocate with an expression of generosity when it has first been expressed to them.
- Empathetic leaders are good listeners. This allows them to discover issues that otherwise might have gone undetected.
- Empathetic leaders can put the thoughts and feelings of their employees on an equal footing with their own. The result is employees who feel more valued and appreciated.
- Empathy equips the supervisor with more patience to deal with the struggles certain employees might experience. This increases the overall performance of their team as no one gets left behind.
- When the employee realizes they have a supervisor who is willing to understand and appreciate all they go through to perform their job, it builds trust. On the flipside, a lack of trust will mute every leadership skill, including empathy.
One final thought
To understand how others are feeling we might just study ourselves. We are all made of the same stuff. We might be put together a little differently, but our essential ingredients are the same. Many of our experiences and deepest longings we have in common. Therefore, look to your own wants and needs to better understand others. And treat them the way you would want to be treated.