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Empathy and Accountability For Leaders

Empathy and accountability for leaders

Empathy and Accountability For Leaders

Can We Remember The Time When We Had More Empathy?

Empathy is a word that’s being used more and more in organizations and in team meetings over the last few years but people don’t really know what it means. The best definition I ever heard of empathy was from a speaker colleague of mine, Jon Acuff, who defined empathy as caring about what the people you care about care about. 

I think it’s a beautiful way of thinking about it. Caring about what the people you care about care about. And if you do care about what the people you care about, you’re more likely to have a greater connection with them and as a result, more likely they are to open up, be honest, and work harder and longer hours for you, if you’re in a leadership position. People who experience empathy are more likely to be open to buying your products and services from you if you’re working in sales. So the question that people ask me is, how do we bring more of this empathy humanity into organizations?

How The Pandemic Helped Us Become More Empathetic:

In fact, over the recent COVID pandemic, I certainly felt working with teams and leaders that people were more open about what was happening in their lives. And as a result, teams and leaders came closer together. The problem since then, is that the boundaries between personal and professional lives have become a lot more segmented and unfortunately often limits our ability to understand what our colleagues might be going through. 

Many leaders shy away from phrases such as mental health, or emotional intelligence. But there’s an increasing number of sick days being taken around the world, increased number of suicides, higher number of absenteeism, anxiety, lack of focus and if we simply shift our focus from questioning, ‘What’s the matter?’ to get a deeper understanding of our employees using the question, ‘Are you okay?’ we might be able to bring our work and life boundaries together again.

Having More Empathy Doesn’t Mean Less Accountability:

This doesn’t mean, we should step back from holding employees to account if they do take days off, and we certainly shouldn’t blur the boundaries between life and work but it is important to bring them together a little bit closer. I think that so often organizations talk about work life balance but this suggests that are two separate things. However, work and life are not just different sides of a coin, but they are in fact the same coin. I think it’s awful to think that our work and personal lives are in opposition with one another, and we need to seek balance.

The Pandemic Brought Us Together As Humans:

One of the reasons why we felt closer to people through COVID is because we started to see people as humans we saw into their homes, we heard their barking dogs, we saw their crying babies, we saw it as their home as opposed to have an office and we saw children running through their Zoom call with us and we didn’t even know they had children. 

This gave us all a bit of an insight into their lives and as a result, we became a shade more patient because we understood that our employees lives are very much like our own. They’re messy, they’re disruptive and if somebody couldn’t connect with us on a zoom call, or they got distracted because their children were screaming or they had to change a nappy, get them a drink or feed the dog, we didn’t get angry as we would have done pre-pandemic as if there were no struggles in the world. 

We started to really embrace that people have a human side and a life outside of work. We asked the question, ‘are you okay?’ as opposed to ‘what’s the matter?’ We appreciated that they had different stresses and worries and anxieties going on in their lives. Either they were sick or their family was sick or their children were sick, or their children were studying at home as opposed to school and we took time to consider all of these things. As a result of this increased understanding and context of their lives, if their performance at work went down, we didn’t immediately assume that they were being lazy. 

We took time to understand what was going on in their lives and showed our empathy. Many people ask me how to become more empathetic. Much like a muscle and during the pandemic, we really got the opportunity exercise and use. The problem we have now is that several years on is that we’ve fallen back out of love of empathy and back into our old habits where our emotional intelligence plays second fiddle to business growth because we’re back into driving for results as our primary and default mindset. However, if we’re constantly striving for results, and incentivizing our team, it becomes unsustainable.

How Empathy Sits Alongside Business Growth:

We constantly talk about the numbers, the bottom line and hitting targets, but unfortunately, don’t really talk about trust, openness, transparency, collaboration, or self-awareness. Inside of organizations, we don’t talk about kindness, we don’t measure happiness or empathy levels. 

I’m not suggesting everybody should stand around in circles and meditate together or share their feelings in a contrived way, but creating a culture that is built on these foundations is no more complicated that simply about talking to one another authentically and being open to our feelings. 

We’re forever talking about being productive in organizations with a desire for accountability or a desire to move the needle with an urgency to hit our goals and our targets to produce to reduce wastage because we’ve got big ideas and a vision for the organization. But it’s also important to treat each other right along the way as well. The process is as important as achieving our goals because a healthy team means an increased likelihood that we will achieve our results.

Memories subconsciously create our instincts over our lifetimes whereas intuition involves aspects of long term memory that can even involve short term memory processes. Our intuitive feelings kick in when long term memory combined with the patterns we subconsciously remember combined with experience.  Intuitive decision making is based on our past experiences. As a result, we can become repeatedly successful in similar situations where previous outcomes and learnings were useful and accurate.


Duncan is a professional keynote speaker who share his insights on empathy amongst other topics to elevate yours and your team’s performance. You can discover more about achieving success, cultivating a high-performance mindset and fulfilling your potential on his Youtube Channel on Youtube.com/duncanstevens – Duncan is a professional keynote speaker and global authority on high-performance leadership, influence and collaboration. To check his availability and to find out more, please get in touch using the button below:

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