5 Ways To Lead With Empathy

Empathy sounds like one of those touchy-feely words. It’s what those woo-woo leaders do. But it’s not.

Leading with empathy is something every leader should do. It not only endears you to your employees but it forms stronger connections between you, employees, suppliers, and more.

Why wouldn’t you want to lead with empathy?

What Is Empathy?

Some of us may have the wrong idea of empathy. We don’t understand what empathy is or how to use empathy. Let’s get clear about what empathy is.

According to the dictions, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. That means you, as a leader, can connect with your people on an emotional level. You can share in another person’s grief, stress, anguish, frustration, and more without letting it overcome you. 

With empathy, you can sense out and feel more of what an employee is going through. Empathy will help you see why an employee might be doing what they’re doing. Or you might be able to prevent burnout because you’ve understood where they are at an emotional level because you’ve been there before.

5 Ways To Lead With Empathy

You may be saying to yourself: But I don’t know how to lead with empathy. It’s not a topic covered in grad school or by my mentor. That’s okay. We will walk together as we look at 5 ways to lead with empathy.

1. Get to know yourself:

One of the first things you need to do to become a more empathetic leader is to get to know yourself. We’ve all stuffed our feelings, emotions, and ideas deep down. We’ve been scared to share certain aspects of our lives with others, even ourselves.

If you want to lead with empathy, you can no longer do that. You have to get into the messy, icky, often scary corners of your emotional and mental life.

Dig into what makes you tick, your personality style, and your emotional health. Once you know yourself, you can move on to knowing and understanding others.

2. Be engaged:

It’s easy to be disengaged. You slip into your corner office, shut your door, and put your out-of-office on your email. You check out of the in-person interactions.

You cannot do this if you want to lead with empathy. Instead, you have to be engaged and focused.

Be present for conversations that come up about the weekend, hobbies, and interests of your employees. The more you focus on them, the more understanding and connection you can be with their needs.

It’s not easy to be engaged, but it will pay off in the end.

3. Encourage engagement:

Not only do you need to be engaged, you have to encourage those you lead to be engaged. You can start this by asking probing questions. Nothing too deep or philosophical, but questions that show your employees that you’re interested.

Ask about their weekend, their spouse, or their dog. When they’ve answered, dig a little deeper. Ask what they liked about their weekend, their dog’s breed, or some other question that shows them you care.

As they share, encourage them. Tell them how interesting these things are (only if you truly believe they are). Pull out of them what they’re interested in.

You’ll find yourself flooded with new, impactful information about your team that connects you to them.

4. Stop giving unsolicited advice:

We’re leaders. We love to find answers and share them with others. However, this can damage the reputation of someone trying to become an empathetic leader.

Leave your leadership answer man at the door.

Instead, just listen. Hear out others’ concerns. Listen to what’s troubling them. And then comfort them without answers.

This may be the most challenging way to lead with empathy, but you need to learn it. 

People want presence, not answers. Give them your presence, and then they’ll invite your wisdom in.

5. Study employee analytics:

You’ve got analytics for other parts of your business; why not your employees? It can be difficult to talk to everyone on your team, especially if your team is large or remote.

You can gauge how your team is doing by conducting employee surveys of happiness and workplace engagement. Once completed, you can study the information to see how your employees are doing and how you can engage them. Some of the data you collect will help you create a plan to help them or give them the tools to move forward.

Empathy Is Good

Let’s all work on becoming leaders who lead with empathy. The more we wrap our minds around what empathy is, how empathy improves the workplace, and what we can do to be more empathetic, the more we can truly become the leader who understands and connects with their people.

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