Today’s business environment requires leaders who can be empathetic. In a multi-generational workforce where technology dominates communication methods, employees crave a leader that can be authentic. A manager who can connect, develop relationships and put themselves in their team members shoes is an asset. And more and more, it’s a required characteristic for company leaders at all levels of the organization.
But what does it mean to be empathetic? What does an empathetic leader even look like? And why is this so important?
The job of a leader is changing and to be successful, it’s no longer about command and control. Today’s innovative leaders embrace the responsibility of creating valuable relationships with every member on their team.
In its simplest terms, demonstrating empathy is about being authentic in what you say, what you do and in how you treat others. It doesn’t require you to be who you are not, and it doesn’t require you to be “soft” or “weak.”
In fact, the solution is quite simple. In our work with multiple clients in numerous industries, we’ve determined five common behaviors that empathetic leaders demonstrate:
- Listening — just as listening skills are important in sales, they are important in leadership. To be empathetic, leaders need to be able to make a connection with the people working for them. To make a connection, you need to be able to ask questions and then listen to what is important to others, what makes them tick and what resonates.
- Communication — empathetic leaders focus their communications on talking with team members, not to them. They understand that their employees need direction but do not want to be told what to do and how to do it. They want a manager who will ask their opinion, explore ideas with them and keep the lines of communication open and flowing. They also want a leader who uses various methods of communication to connect with them (F2F, text, email).
- Collaboration — leaders who demonstrate empathy are typically open to sharing ideas and working with others to move toward the best solutions. They can help their teams hit high performance and often exceed results. With empathetic leaders, opinions are heard, issues addressed and teams can function optimally. These leaders also hold their team members accountable for working across silos and forming strong relationships across the organization.
- Coaching and feedback — the best leadership talent is open to giving and receiving coaching and feedback throughout their careers. Empathetic leaders forge relationships through the coaching and feedback process, welcoming the opportunity to understand or communicate where and how to get better. They actively solicit input from others and know that there is always room to learn and grow.
- Patience — with empathetic leaders, other team members can develop and try ideas. Leaders give people the autonomy needed to make decisions, try solutions and potentially even fail along the way. An empathetic leader understands the payoff that comes with resilience and persistence.
By adopting these five leadership behaviors, your organization will reap benefits in several areas:
- Higher employee engagement with increased loyalty, happiness and retention. By improving the lines of communication throughout the organization, talent will have a deeper personal investment in their jobs and ultimately the customers.
- Lower employee attrition or turnover with less time spent having to replace teams. Improving how leaders interact with their teams will be an enticement for workers to stay with your organization, an important commodity in today’s tight labor market.
- Higher productivity and achievement of results. Happier, engaged talent equates to a more productive organization. Over time, the results will be evident in your bottom line.
- Better ability to recruit top, progressive talent. News of an empathetic, forward-thinking organization will go viral, and the ability to attract top talent will be made easier.
- Improved customer satisfaction. Every outcome listed here leads to this endgame — a better experience for the customer.
Indeed, the ability to demonstrate empathy separates the best leaders from the marginal. Focusing on how to drive results, and not just the results themselves, is important. In fact, how managers lead and how they get their team to perform is what really defines success.
In today’s competitive landscape, where speed-to-market is essential, there’s a hyper-focus on getting things done first. Those companies that recognize the importance of developing empathetic leaders may just gain a competitive advantage and exceed even their own expectations.
Kim Huggins is a partner at ALULA. She is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker, and author on leadership and understanding multiple generations in the workforce. Her book, “GENerate Performance! Unleashing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce,” has been cited as an invaluable leadership tool for any business wanting to attract and retain talent. She has a passion for and experience in generational diversity, change execution, leadership development/coaching, organizational development, employee engagement, and cultures of innovation.