Practicing Empathy As A Leader
As a leader, you’re not going to get it right straightaway; we have our own challenges and our own lives. We may not be as great as forging personal relationships inside of work as others and at the same time remaining professional. Our own lives are affected by our own mood, diet, environment or sleep.
Our mood may be influenced by the weather and equally the same for others as well. But it’s important to acknowledge that other people have the same challenges going on in their lives as well. Being human is messy but it’s also an opportunity to be collaborative and cooperative driven empathy and understanding and interconnectedness.
Life is built on relationships, egos, insecurities and frustrations. But if we create a culture of safety, openness and transparency and as leaders strive to build a healthy organization, and we all we play our role in a healthy organization, it means we and our team can really feel honest, authentic and be ourselves. If we can be ourselves in an organization, and we too can be supportive of others, if we get something wrong, it’s okay. If we make a mistake, we’re not the mistake. If we fail at something, we don’t feel like we are a failure. Instead we support one another to achieve combined success.
Focus On the Positives
So, if we focus on the positives in our team and organization this is where we can really move the needle on performance. It’s important to note that by shifting the focus from ‘Are you okay?’ to ‘What’s the matter?’ it’s not about taking away any accountability, but simply creating an environment where people enjoy coming to work, because we can still hold others to account and even better create an environment where they hold themselves to account and their colleagues.
This is when we know we’ve really created a healthy environment and indeed a culture.
Having Empathy Doesn’t Mean Removing Accountability
We do indeed want people to take account of themselves, others and their actions and create a culture and environment where they feel bad if they do let their team down, which is the best kind of accountability because that they don’t want to let their people down. This is one of the fundamentals of building a collaborative team or organization. The problem is, we’ve been bought up through our educational system, to focus on individualism and to be the top of the pile, but we need to consider about how we’re working as a society.
People were constantly striving to be millionaire or be famous. We’ve been driving towards this ‘cult of self’ where we are the figurehead in the cult. We’re given unusual names, because our parents want us to stand out and be the star as opposed to fit in. However, we can’t all survive in this environment where everybody is focusing on singularity and individualism, for their own success. Everything we’ve achieved so far in our lives and will go on to achieve will be attained through the support of others. And as a result is important that we should also focus on shared responsibility not only for the up’s, but also for the downs and for the successes and the failures, as well. Know that if we have been successful as a leader or personality, or we have become wealthy it’s because other people supported us.
There’s no such thing as this lone wolf. Somebody took a risk on us, someone gave us a break, someone lent us some money, gave us a shoulder to cry on, tucked us in bed at night, lent a listening ear and advice even when we were struggling. Our successes have nearly always come down to how others helped us out and our team around us. This could be our team within our organization or family team around in our personal lives.
Weave Empathy Into Our Communities
And as a result, we need to think of our lives as a community where it is incumbent upon us to care the people around us, in the same way that in their small way they take of us. Learning how to take care of others is a massive skill and part of that skill is active listening, not just active, listening, but reactive listening. Listening to what people want, and indeed need, and then helping them out accordingly. As mentioned earlier, empathy is a skill that is caring about what the people you care about care about.
It’s about learning how to give and receive feedback, (which is also a learned skill) or learning how to have a difficult conversation with your friends, family members, partner and employee. It’s very easy to go onto social media and start pointing the finger and blame other people but it’s extremely difficult to go up to somebody and say sorry, have a difficult conversation with them, tell them about what’s happened today and offer your vulnerable side up to the world. However, it’s these kinds of conversations that are the building blocks of collaboration and cooperation because it helps foster healthy relationships and build healthy cultures and it all stems back to empathy.
Don’t Reserve Empathy Just For Friends And Family Members
With all this in mind, it’s important, indeed imperative to care as much about your employees as you do about your mother, your father, and your children and your wife or husband. You should care as much about all of these as you do, as your bottom line, and your board members and your fellow leaders. When profits are up, it’s easy to say that you care about your employees and the people that you work with. When your family life is going well and you have little financial worries, and you’re getting enough sleep, it’s easy to say you have a loving family life. But it’s when your relationship with your colleagues is under pressure, profits are down, footfall is down, or you’ve got a lack of sleep at home or you’ve lost your job.
This is when the truth really comes out. This is when leaders’ (and people) who aren’t genuinely empathetic, caring, open and transparent, authentic self comes out. It’s this that leads to problems. So often, leaders and organizations think they aren’t under any obligation to care about their employee’s well-being.
However, I truly believe that there’s an unwritten psychological contract or expectation between you and your team as a leader. You should care for them, and in turn, they care for you. So if you’re really striving for high performing teams and organizations, as a leader, you should make it an expectation not just a request and build it into your job descriptions and contracts that each and every one of you should care about each other not just how everyone is performing but equally if they are struggling as well. Empathy should play a role in everything you do and everything you say.
Empathy Is The Secret Skill For Conflict Resolution
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.
In fact, alongside self-awareness, empathy can be one of the most beneficial traits, a leader, or an employee can have when resolving issues. When you have a challenge or conflict that needs resolving, first it’s important to empathize then agree, and then try and resolve the situation. Empathy shouldn’t mitigate conflict and in fact conflict, discussion, debate and challenge can sometimes be equally beneficial as it can push boundaries within a team and organization. However, when you get the difficult kind of conflict, this is where empathetic resolution can really help out. Whenever you’re faced with a challenge, don’t take it personally, especially if it’s targeted at you. So often in life we think about winning and losing.
But more often than not, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose when dealing with people and their emotions. Mutual resolution is a far superior place. As a leader, if you get angry with others there’s every chance your credibility will become eroded. The more frequently you get angry the more this credibility wears away so stay as calm and as composed as possible. By doing this you can maintain your integrity.
It’s important to add that whilst it’s easy to say, it’s very hard to execute. But one way to achieve this comes back to the core message here and that is empathy. Start by agreeing that there is a problem and they understand their point of view to allow you all to resolve the way forward. Hopefully by now, it should be clear that empathy may very well be regarded as the cornerstone of conflict resolution, and high performing teams and therefore every reason to work on it, exercise it and create an culture fuelled by empathy where everyone supports everyone else to achieve collaborative success.
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