Theodore Roosevelt famously said, ‘Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.’ Although it was uttered years ago, his quote is relevant in the modern business world more than ever! Cut-throat competition in the corporate world has ensured that people are less bothered about the value of empathy and more about climbing the corporate ladder.
However, there are two sides to every coin. Hence, let us understand the concept of empathy better and how it becomes both effective and counter-intuitive for leadership at the same time.
What is Empathy?
Wikipedia defines ‘Empathy’ as ‘the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference’. In other words, it refers to the ability to understand another person’s emotions by placing oneself in that person’s position.
Earlier, empathy used to be a rare thing to experience in the corporate sector. However, times have changed and the intrinsic value of empathy is understood by the leadership as well as the employees nowadays.
Empathy in Leadership
The value of empathy in leadership cannot be overstated. Employees are the most important aspect of any organization and being a leader, one is supposed to manage them effectively. However, that is possible only when the staff members feel that they are part of the company and that the organization genuinely values them as part of the ‘family’ and cares for them. This can only be achieved by being empathetic towards them as they are human beings with emotions.
To cultivate the feeling of ‘belongingness’, the management must understand that the employees should be treated with the same level of respect and dedication given to their customers or clientele. There are many benefits of empathy in leadership such as having more engaged employees, which helps them service the clientele better, thus ensuring the overall success of the company in the long term.
Since we have understood the concept of empathy in leadership, let us turn our attention towards the best and worst of having empathetic leaders:
The Pros of Empathy in Leadership
· Improves productivity
The most important positive effect of empathy in leadership is the added productivity and creativity displayed by the employees. When a human being understands that another person is genuinely interested in their work, they are bound to come up with innovative and efficient solutions for the betterment of the company. Similarly, as they are invested in their work, they also become more productive.
·Helps develop teamwork
Since empathy helps in fostering relationships, it helps create genuine bonds between individuals, which results in developing good collaboration between the team members. Having an empathetic leader also helps the team support each other due to the elevated mutual trust and respect. This kind of bonding between the team members helps them be more productive in their work and hence, they are inclined to perform better, which is beneficial for the company.
·Makes teams diverse and inclusive
Since companies are becoming more diverse and inclusive, people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are working together. This might lead to creative and cultural differences which could be resolved amicably with the help of a leader who understands the value of empathy in leadership. With an empathetic leader at the helm, the minority group would be encouraged to be more active and provide better inputs due to the empathy showcased by their leader towards them.
· Fosters genuine relationships
All of the points discussed until now would be in vain if the empathy in leadership skills being displayed is done for the sake of it. Humans are very good at discerning genuine emotion from façade and hence, the empathy and trust showcased by the leader should be genuine. This fosters genuine work relationships which encourage the group of individuals to bond as well as be more efficient as a team.
The Cons of Empathy in Leadership
·Poor decision making
Since empathy is an emotion, being too empathetic might mean that the leader’s judgement is being clouded by emotion than logic. Even though empathy is required in a work environment, there might be malicious individuals who might take undue advantage of their leader’s emotional nature for their benefit. This kind of overtly empathetic approach eventually leads to poor decision-making, which is highly detrimental to the growth of the company.
·Risk of being shallow
Individuals have different approaches to their emotions and hence, some employees might assume that the empathetic leader is simply too shallow and is being considerate for the sake of it. Similarly, in cases where the leader is doing it for the sake of gaining their trust, the team members can easily spot the masquerade and mark the leader as untrustworthy and malignant in their mind.
Caring genuinely for someone includes understanding their concerns and being genuinely vested in their interests. However, a normal human being would not be able to carry the emotional burden of the entire team on their shoulders. This could lead to unwarranted stress which could take a toll on the mental health of the leader, making them ineffective and eventually leading to an unstable team.
Research shows that humans tend to empathize with others who are similar to them. If we consider this logic and apply it to the diverse teams of modern offices, it could lead to serious accusations of racism, sexism, partial treatment, etc. The diverse team members shouldn’t feel left out when the leader is showing empathy towards someone who is of the same race or gender as themselves. Hence, a good leader should understand that being empathetic should also be done inclusively.
How Leaders can show Empathy in Workplace?
A leader has multiple options to showcase that they are empathetic towards their team members in the workspace. The trick is to identify it and apply it without seeming superficial. Below are some of the ways you can show your empathetic side towards your team:
Be accessible to your teammates
Being accessible to your team members will not only help in gaining the trust and respect of your teammates but also help you foster meaningful relationships with them. This kind of repertoire also ensures that your team members confide their professional issues with you, which helps in understanding what is bothering them and making a difference for the whole team by highlighting these issues with the upper management if required or acting upon their feedback.
Make empathy a part of company culture
Company culture is not something that evolves overnight. It requires hours of calculated strategies that are implemented via policies. However, it should also reflect the nature of the employees working in that company. And the nature of the employees can be identified only if you include empathy as a part of the company culture. You need to ensure that your employees can view you under pressure too, to understand that you are as much a part of the team as they are. This also provides them with a comfort zone around you which will help you foster their trust and respect.
Make sharing feelings a part of work ethic
People share their feelings with someone whom they can trust. Hence, it is important to make sure that sharing feelings is a part of the company work ethic. When your team members feel that they can share what is on their minds without being ridiculed or judged, they will be more open to innovations as well as come up with brilliant ideas, which could prove useful for the entire company. Realizing that someone hears our woes helps the employees share their feelings and ideas with the team, which helps in team bonding as well as refining the organization.
Take interest in your team member’s work-life
Being a leader, one needs to genuinely be interested in your teammates’ interests, dreams, and aspirations as they are working towards achieving the same. You can also share your dreams with the team to help them build meaningful relationships with you. Similarly, you can share a common passion with other team members if you have a common hobby or a dream which can be fulfilled together. The employees will be more engaged in this scenario as they understand that they are on a path of achieving something valuable and their leader is with them.
To summarize, we can safely state that empathy is an important part of the employee experience and even though it needs time to be highly effective, it can also be a double-edged sword if wielded unwisely. The key to being an empathetic leader is to be genuinely interested in your employee’s welfare and happiness and be sincerely empathetic towards them. However, manage it carefully so as not to overdo it and ensure that you are not influenced by it in key decision-making areas of the company. Moderation and setting boundaries are necessary, while also encouraging the team to be empathetic towards each other and leading by example.
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