Leading with Empathy: L.O.V.E. at Work
February 10th 2016
Empathy is the trait that allows us to see the world through others’ eyes. It means we understand that others bring their own unique perspectives to every situation.
Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy, which is when we feel others’ emotions — sometimes to our own detriment. In my view, too much sympathy can cripple a leader. However, we can’t have too much empathy, because empathy is a form of understanding. We can never understand our team too much or too well.
With at least three generations in the workplace, empathy is easier to talk about than to execute. There are now so many differences in communication styles, lifestyles, and definitions of success. How can we empathize with those who are so different from us? How can we understand them better?
Three techniques may help you:
- Remember how it felt to be young, inexperienced, and insecure. Those characteristics led you to behave in specific ways. The same is true for your team members. If you can remember that you were once where they are, and how it felt to be where they are, you will find it easier to understand them.
- Be present at every encounter. Ask questions that make you uncomfortable. Tune in to what others are telling you. Listen deeply. When you are present, you allow yourself to hear both what is being said and what is left unsaid. You can see what the face and body are saying, along with hearing the words. You can learn things that you might never learn otherwise. And when you learn things about people, you understand them better.
- Let go of your ego. As a leader, it’s fairly common to get your behind kissed. It would be easy to believe that your way is the best way, or that people should do what you tell them just because. However, it is in your best interests to consider that you might not be right. Make people want to follow you because you understand them, not because you ordered them to.
Developing empathy involves understanding both ourselves and others. It’s hard work, but well worth the effort, because it allows for the opportunity to become stronger leaders who create stronger followers. Can you imagine how that might contribute to the success of your firm?