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Empathetic Leadership Style: Bringing Out the Best in Your Team

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How to bring out the best in your team by practicing empathetic leadership.

Employees today, more than ever, are seeking out workplace environments that are cognizant of their needs. Empathetic leadership styles that value their employees and uplift perform better than companies that don’t seek to empathize with their workforce. Empathy is a matter of company culture, it comes from the top down. Leadership styles that embrace empathy and genuinely believe in meeting the needs of their employees have seen great results in employee satisfaction and overall output.

 

What is Empathy?

 

Empathy is the ability to resonate with and understand the feelings of others and their situation. The ability to empathize or “cognitive empathy” for the average person develops around the age of 13. This is a lifelong skill used across a wide breadth of social relationships, from personal to work life. Empathy is incredibly important for certain roles in society; decision-makers and leaders are tasked with setting policy on behalf of others in their community. Thus, it is critical for those at the top to empathize with those they manage. 

 

What is Empathetic Leadership 

Empathetic leadership is a style or practice of leadership focusing on increasing success in the workplace by placing the needs of employees as a high priority. Benefits to the business include increased output and higher retention, innovation, diversity, strong company reputation, and overall customer satisfaction. Employees under an empathetic leadership style report better outcomes, and job satisfaction.

 

Why is Empathetic Leadership Important in a Work Environment

Why is empathy important in the workplace? An empathetic leadership style in a company is magnetic and can be viewed from afar. Companies that encourage the enrichment and well-being of their employees see results externally from clients and customers. 

Empathy in the workplace is vital for the betterment of employees and the overall success of the business. Empathic leadership translates to overall job satisfaction which in turn leads to increased employee retention, productivity, and innovation. Employees in work environments where they feel heard and uplifted outperform their equal counterparts than in companies where empathy isn’t part of the management culture. 

Often underestimated, genuine interest in supporting employees means having a vested interest in individual outcomes and job development. Businesses that embrace their employees and encourage their management to focus on the emotional and physical well-being of their workers see overall positive results. Dissatisfied employees typically grow resentful of their work and the people on their team, in the end stunting collaborative innovation and productivity.   

Ultimately, empathetic leadership is a tool in building an inclusive, understanding environment that allows employees to develop individually and as a collective team. 

 

Key Characteristics of an Empathetic Leader 

There are a few key traits to master in order to become a strong and genuine empathetic leader. Approachable leadership takes learning the techniques that allow employees to communicate quickly and reliably making meeting their needs possible. 

 

Listen to Understand

 

An image with a banner that reads we hear you, an example of an empathetic leader.
Photo by Jon Tyson.

 

Leadership, surprisingly, requires more listening than explaining. An empathetic leader needs to be able to listen first, synthesize, then act. This applies to all aspects of the job, it is important to genuinely understand what is being said and asked. The ability to fully understand a problem an employee has an issue with can lead to a fast and productive resolution. Listening is the direct means of comprehension. 

Listening to understand does not necessarily need to take place in a verbal discussion, but there does need to be a consistent and validating avenue for employees to offer feedback and get help. Allowing employees group meeting catchups makes group thinking possible, one-on-one meetings are usually the most classic and direct. Then there is written feedback, which should be equally welcomed. Allowing multiple channels and opportunities throughout the day can help managers listen and fully understand, then meet needs. 

 

Student-like Mindset

There are two types of mindsets for a leader: masters and students. The master is someone who has honed his skill or knowledge-set and spends the majority of their time teaching subordinates. While leaders might be well versed and experienced, it is unwise to take a master mindset to approach problem-solving and working with a diverse team. 

A student-like mindset is a nimble approach to leadership. These types of leaders are more open to learning new things, particularly open to being wrong, and utilizing these moments as a lesson for growth. This is a vital aspect of any strong leader as it allows them to be more dynamic and responsive in the face of an issue or new situation. Leaders who are willing to learn from not only people above them but below them gain more perspective and can better adapt to their team

 

Selflessness

Managing people with empathy requires a level of selflessness. Empathy is achievable by stepping out of one’s own world and imagining what it is like for another. Stepping away from personal bias and preference to meet the needs of the team. Not all leadership decisions will benefit everyone, management included. It is essential to know how to balance and find the overall best outcome for the company and employees alike.

 

Outcomes of Empathetic Leadership

The benefits of embracing an empathetic leadership style are not always clearly visible in the outcomes. These changes are not immediate, but they are very worth taking the time and resources to invest in. These outcomes are usually seen internally and externally, which will make the business look all the more impressive to current and future employees, plus vested partners. 

 

Inclusivity

Companies that choose an empathetic leadership style tend to have a more diverse and inclusive workforce. People who do not fit the stereotypical mold of the industry they work in, find that empathetic workplaces are going to offer better support and career opportunities. Empathy is essential as it allows for more unique hires, thus translating to more innovative solutions and unparalleled perspectives.  

 

Work-Life Balance

Employees are not required, nor is it healthy to make their work their entire world, people have lives outside of the office. From time-to-time work may take priority and at other times life may need to be at the forefront for any one individual. Overall, there needs to be some equilibrium and leaders should respect this. 

No two employees are the same, and their personal lives outside of work are not going to be the same either. Managers should learn to empathize with the needs and desires of the employee on both fronts. Allowing flexibility and understanding of individual needs leads to the overall happiness and success of employees and in turn the company. Creating a culture where work-life balance is encouraged requires understanding on the part of management. 

 

Reduction in Burnout, Increase in Retention

Employees want to perform well at their jobs, they want to succeed. Giving them the tools to succeed is the role of management. Allowing employees a sense of control and understanding reduces workplace stress, which in turn reduces the likelihood of burnout and improves overall employee retention. Working with teams and understanding how to improve the work culture makes for more productive and satisfied teams. 

Empathy helps give employees a sense of belonging, and overall enjoyment in what they do. Employees often feel their leaders trust them when they are able to level with them on a personal problem. People are generally more motivated to work with and for others if they feel respected and valued, which empathy facilitates. 

 

Continuous Practice to Become a More Empathetic Leader

Being empathetic as a leader is not a final destination, it takes time to build up a culture of empathy in the workplace and within one’s team. An empathetic leader needs to set up practices and rituals with their team to better know them personally. Empathy serves as a constant reminder that people, not just wealth, are what make businesses successful. 

Dr. Michelle Rozen
Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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