Empathy: The Bridge to Exceptional Leadership

Bridge to Sydney

In this bustling world of constant activity and competition, leaders everywhere are on the hunt for ways to step up their game and become better at what they do. They read books, attend workshops, and maybe even get a leadership coach, all in the pursuit of becoming the best leaders they can be.  

Yet, amidst all this effort, a recent study on the State of the Global Workplace in 2023 reveals an unexpected twist: Despite the increasing number of leaders engaging in leadership development programs, a significant portion of the world's employees are quietly packing up their motivation and leaving.  

What exactly is "quiet quitting"? It's like being present in the body but mentally elsewhere. You might be at your desk or logged into your computer, but the sense of purpose and connection with your work, colleagues, and the organisation has faded away.  

A staggering six out of 10 employees fall into this category of quiet quitters. When combined with those actively disengaged, this state of low engagement ends up costing the global economy a staggering $8.8 trillion, which accounts for about 9% of the global GDP.  

And that's not all.  

Employee stress levels continue to soar, with a record number of 51% of currently employed workers keeping an eye out for or actively searching for a new job. While better pay is undoubtedly enticing, improved well-being and growth opportunities also rank high on the list of what job seekers desire. 

Empathy: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle 

In the midst of all this data lies a crucial yet often overlooked element: Empathy.  

It's like that missing puzzle piece you are searching for that will transform the way your leaders and other team members experience their workplace.  

So, why is empathy frequently pushed aside in the hustle of work life?  

Consider this: empathy is often perceived as a "soft skill" that most people do not find as glamorous as strategic planning or financial prowess. Additionally, in a world where personal development takes precedence, understanding others might not be deemed a high priority, leading to its neglect. Moreover, a common misconception exists where some individuals assume that their own way of processing the world aligns perfectly with everyone else. 

Yet, it's this very quality that can bridge the gap between the leadership and the rest of the workforce. While productivity and turnover rates might seem worlds apart, empathy has the unique ability to impact both. Imagine a world where employees feel understood, valued, and supported. 

The Great Divide 

CEOs might have a different perception of their company's empathetic nature than their employees do. Surprisingly, only 48% of employees believe their companies as a whole are empathetic, while a much higher 68% of CEOs hold that belief. 

This gap in how both parties see things is actually quite important. It suggests that CEOs might not fully realise how little they're showing empathy in the workplace. To put it simply, even though CEOs might think their organisations are good at understanding and caring for their people, when you look from the employees' perspective, there's a noticeable difference. This sheds light on the potential disparity between intentions and the actual implementation of empathetic practices. 

Interestingly, though CEOs might not rate the impact of empathy highly, employees on the other hand, consider it a driving force for productivity (76% vs. 52% of CEOs) and even credit it for lower turnover rates (70% vs. 40% of CEOs). 

Developing Empathy  

The question now becomes: how can leaders cultivate empathy in the workplace? Here are five practical steps to infuse empathy into your leadership style and drive positive results: 

Step 1: Listen with Intent - The next time a team member approaches you with their thoughts or concerns, embrace them with active listening. Instead of formulating your response, dedicate yourself fully to comprehending their perspective. Engage in the conversation with the genuine desire to understand, not merely to reply.  

By doing this, you extend a hand of empathy, showing that their thoughts are valued and they are being heard. For instance, if a team member shares their challenges with a project, actively listen without interrupting and ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into their perspective. 

Step 2: Walk in Their Shoes - Empathy transcends understanding; it involves immersion. Take a moment to place yourself in the shoes of your team members. Ponder over their daily challenges, aspirations, and emotions. When an employee recounts their experiences, envision the scenarios they describe, feeling what they feel. By immersing yourself, you demonstrate a profound level of empathy that resonates with your team's needs.  

For example, if a team member is struggling with a heavy workload, try to imagine the pressure they might be under and the emotions they could be experiencing. 

Step 3: Communicate Openly - To cultivate empathy, foster an environment where candid dialogue is the norm. Encourage your team members to express themselves freely, without fear of judgment or consequence. When everyone feels secure enough to voice their thoughts openly, barriers dissolve, and empathy flourishes. Show your commitment to this open culture by actively participating in such conversations. For instance, during team meetings, empower team members to share their thoughts and concerns without any reservations. 

Step 4: Acknowledge Emotions - Emotions hold paramount importance in the world of empathy. Acknowledge their emotions regardless of whether someone is excited, exasperated, or anxious. Extend understanding and validation, demonstrating that their feelings matter. When a team member expresses jubilation, commend their enthusiasm. When faced with frustration, acknowledge their challenges. By doing so, you create an atmosphere that values emotional well-being.  

If a team member expresses frustration about a setback, acknowledge their feelings by saying something like, "I understand this is frustrating, and I appreciate your dedication to finding solutions. Please let me know how I can help you." 

Step 5: Provide Support - As a leader, your role extends beyond guidance; it includes support. Keep an attentive eye out for employees who might require assistance, and be willing to adapt your leadership approach to cater to individual needs.  

Picture a team member confiding in you about their workload concerns. Instead of shrugging it off, express empathy by recognising their sentiments and collaboratively brainstorming together ways to alleviate the stress.  

This seemingly minor gesture can wield a significant impact, enhancing trust and motivation. For example, if a team member is overwhelmed, offer to explore the possibility of redistributing tasks or provide additional resources to ease their load. 

The Great Secret to Effective Leadership 

In the wise words of Henry Ford, "If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person's place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own." 

Empathy isn't just about understanding others; it's about creating a bridge of connection and shared purpose. 

As leaders, cultivating empathy isn't merely an added skill; it's the key that will unlock unprecedented results. By weaving empathy into the fabric of your leadership, you forge a path toward a workplace where engagement soars, relationships flourish, and results follow suit. So, let's all embrace empathy as the missing piece that can truly transform how we lead and thrive. 

We Are Here to Help 

At People Builders, we have a team of expert trainers and coaches who can help you build your own and your team’s Empathy. 

Contact us today for a quick chat to see how we can partner with you to train and coach you and your team. 

If you are interested in becoming certified to be a trainer and coach in Social and Emotional Intelligence, Applied Neuroscience, or Extended DISC, go to our People Builders Institute website.  




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