Talk about leadership and you would often hear words like- strategy, risk, integrity, passion, confidence, purpose, commitment, and so on. The list is probably endless. But have you ever heard the word empathetic when you talk about leadership? I have a low-key feeling, you haven’t. Isn’t it amusing that the one trait that makes great leaders is the least talked about?
Empathy is one of the most important traits to have as a leader. It gives you the ability to understand things from another person’s perspective. Leaders who are empathetic can better understand their team members, their skill sets, their aspirations, their needs and contribute a lot to their overall growth.
As an empathetic leader, you have to see things from someone else’s perspective and imagine your reaction had you been subjected to the same situation. It allows you to see the effect your decisions and actions of your team members. Although empathy is often talked about in the field of Design, it is high time now we start counting it as an important leadership trait.
So, what makes a leader empathetic? In my opinion, the following three characteristics make an empathetic leader.
Empathetic leaders are approachable
When people are working in teams, it is important to build a culture of conversation so that people do not hesitate in voicing their opinions. They need to feel comfortable in walking at any time of the day. While some leaders believe that sitting beside your team makes you approachable, but that’s not true. Approachability is when your team member feels comfortable coming and talking to you.
An empathetic leader is a person who leads by example and builds a culture of trust within the team. They put people at ease and listen to them intently. They understand that only when people feel comfortable, they can share their concerns and communicate flaws without the fear of retribution.
Empathetic leaders are effective listeners
Although that should be a quality of all leaders, let’s just say it’s all the more important for an empathetic leader to be a good listener. As a leader, you might believe that you should be the one talking and giving orders. Instead, you ought to focus on listening even more. Listening attentively is important to encourage people to speak and come up with solutions. You need people who question the status quo and come up with innovative ideas, not merely robots who follow your orders.
Empathetic leaders are encouraging
Empathetic leaders understand that there isn’t just one solution to any problem. They push people to be the best version of themselves. They do not enforce their decision upon anyone. Rather, they welcome other people’s ideas and are ready to take risks as well. They set aside their own beliefs and open their minds to different perspectives. Being right or creating a good impression is not important for them. They are more concerned about improving and growing.
So, how can one become an empathetic leader?
Each of us goes through a phase when we are at crossroads with other people on the team. As a leader, you need to pay attention to the “why” behind their actions or feelings. Don’t fret over small mistakes. Look out for solutions first, and then look out for the root cause of the problem. You need to work on the overall development of the team, so be patient. Work alongside your team.
What actually one needs to do?? Big question, I will try to be very concise here.
- Each person on your team is important. Pick one teammate at a time and start creating an emotional bond with them. They are always looking up to you as their coach. Do not let them down.
- Understand what phase of life your team member is going through right now. Ofcourse, this is not related to your project work. But, try to understand what are their personal goals. Maybe they want to excel technically but are unable to commit time because they are caught in some family engagements. In that case, they need your support and guidance.
- Understand their current skill set and what they want to work for in future. Maybe they don’t know exactly what they want to do. Help them figure this out. Once you have the answer, help them plan their goals around it. Make sure that the outputs are tracked and they understand why tracking output is important for accomplishing goals.
- Channelize and De-channelize your communication. Talk to them. Be a friend rather than a boss. Make yourself easily approachable and when they talk to you, hear what they have to say. Do not hold preconceived notions. You don’t need a formal channel every time to communicate with your team member. All important conversations should be done as and when your team members need it. I strongly believe that only the process-oriented tasks should be talked in formal meetings. Apart from that, anything which concerns your team member’s growth can be caught over a cup of coffee or lunch break.
I hope after reading this, you will have a better understanding of the qualities of an empathetic leader and why it is so important to being an effective leader. The steps mentioned above seems tough though, however, once you start practicing them with your team members, you will realize they more effective and crucial to your team’s success.