Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” While you certainly need to demonstrate a threshold of competence in your field, it’s your capacity for caring that will set you apart from mediocre leaders. What’s the key? Leading with empathy.
Imagine if you could reduce staff turnover, increase productivity through intrinsic motivation, and reduce the stress associated with providing feedback because your people seek your critique. These are some of the real benefits derived from empathic leadership.
Empathy is the ability to approach an issue or situation from a different perspective. Imagine a group of people sitting in a circle. Now place a beach ball in the middle. If you ask a person what colour they see, they may say blue. Another person may say green. And so on. The point is that everyone sees things slightly differently, depending on their perspective. And each person is correct.
Empathetic leaders appreciate the merits, demerits, struggles, and opportunities that different perspectives reveal. So how do you lead with empathy? Try embracing these three suggestions:
- Know your team members. Simple concept, easy to fake. For example, I have seen many well-meaning leaders try and memorize a fact or two about each of their team members. While this is a good start, it does not create a meaningful connection. Ask them about their professional and personal goals and be ready to assist and encourage. Listen to their struggles without bias or judgment. Understanding your people empowers them and builds trust. If a leader can truly understand others’ perspectives through values, concerns and experiences, then they are able to generate substantive, meaningful discussions that demonstrate to everyone that they care about their people. This shows that they value people for who they are, not just what they are.
- Actively listen. Listen with intent. Your goal should be building your knowledge, not sharing what you know. Avoid thinking about what you intend to say. Instead, invest your mental energy into understanding the meaning of what is being shared. When a team member finishes speaking, allow for a moment of silence to demonstrate reflection. Instead of responding with advice or criticism, simply recap what you just heard in a succinct manner. Your goal is to demonstrate that you understand their perspective. That’s empathy. And that builds trust.
- Be transparently humble. A confident leader is comfortable with what they don’t know. They acknowledge their shortfalls and surround themselves with people that fill those gaps. In fact, this diversity of perspective and skill, where each team member brings something unique, is a surefire way for your team to stand out in a crowd. Don’t presume that you know more than others because you are the boss. Avoid being one of those insecure egotistical leaders that only surrounds themselves with “yes people” that primarily exist to pump up your ego. Check your ego and recognize the value and potential that exists throughout your team.
Leading with empathy demands that you know your team members, actively listen, and be transparently humble. If you embrace these three concepts, your team members will surely know you care. Of course, this doesn’t mean that competence isn’t important too. It goes without saying that leaders need to be skilled and knowledgeable in their fields. But that’s the easy part. That’s what you’ve been training for. Now it’s time to level up to leading with empathy.
Try these three ideas and you will see a noticeable impact. And if you want more practical advice on how to lead with empathy, check out our programs at gasparotto.co.
Written by Paul Kernaghan and Anthony Robb
Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.