Empathic leaders are better leaders. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes,
understand their thoughts, feelings and point of view, and provide the support and guidance
they need to fulfil their potential.
By demonstrating this so-called ‘soft skill’, they can bring the team together, boost morale,
foster a sense of belonging and even make the team more productive. If you’re a leader with
empathy, you’ll also have better social skills, you’ll have a wider support circle and you’re
more likely to succeed in your professional and personal life.
The good news is that you can develop or improve your skills of empathy by focusing on
seven key areas.
If you want to be an outstanding leader, you need to make time to listen to the feedback of your team and practice active listening.
Focus entirely on what the person is saying without thinking about what you’re going to say next, interrupting, checking your phone or scanning the room. Listen with open ears, open eyes and an open heart whilst also watching the person’s non-verbal cues such as their body language to identify if they are expressing their true feelings.
Also allow the person the time they need to express their thoughts and feelings, without rushing them or pressuring them for answers.
When you’re speaking to someone, make sure you’re present. Even if you have a hectic schedule and multiple tasks demanding your attention, focus on the moment. Avoid thinking about how you’re going to solve that other staff issue, when you need to pay your taxes or whether you’re going to order takeout that evening and be there completely with that person.
Although this sounds obvious, it can be harder than you think. According to a study from Harvard University, most of us spend 47% of our time thinking about what isn’t going on because our mental dialogue is getting in the way. This can be a huge obstacle when it comes to becoming an empathetic leader.
3. Great body language
Empathetic leaders notice other people’s body language, but also ensure that they’re using their own to support what they’re saying. They do things like make eye contact, they nod their heads, sit close to others, and use their facial expressions to demonstrate their concern and understanding for others.
“Body language sends more than 50% of the message,” says South African educators, Better Care, “Most people don’t even know this is happening. Understanding non-verbal and body language is an important part of thinking empathy.”
Look at your own body language- how do you come across when you communicate with others? How could you change your habits to show more empathy towards others?
4. Genuinely caring
To be a great leader, you need to genuinely care about those around you. It’s not enough just to create a persona of someone who cares about those around you because others will see through it and could judge you to be untrustworthy or even fake.
Ask questions about people’s lives away from work. Build those relationships by engaging in conversation about their challenges, families, interests and personal aspirations. Share details about your own life and support those around you.
Even if these conversations are not directly relevant to work, having them will help bring your team together and will pay off when it comes to company loyalty and overall performance.
5. Effective communication skills
Having effective communication skills is about respecting another person’s point of view and keeping the channels of communication open, even if you’re feeling angry, frustrated or disappointed with the other person. It’s about being able to pause and allow any negative emotions to dissipate before communicating further.
An approach called nonviolent communication can be very effective when it comes to honing your skills in this area: “Nonviolent communication in the workplace naturally helps you and your colleagues get along well, because it teaches you how to be real and honest in a way that you are more likely to be heard, and how to listen with empathy & compassionate understanding.”
To do so, learn how to ask for what you want, hear others and move towards a solution that works for the entire team in a calm yet assertive way. Become aware of how your words can create a sense of connection or distance between you and others. Finally, shift your focus from using your authority over others to working alongside others.
Forget the myth of the ruthless business person who isn’t afraid to crush everything in their path to reach the top. To become an empathetic leader, you need to do everything from the heart. Always treat others with kindness, understanding that by doing so, you’re not showing weakness but showing empathy for those around you.
When we give to others, we build stronger relationships, we notice our impact on others and we improve our lives in the process. As a leader, being generous will show your team that you genuinely care about them and their wellbeing. They’ll become more loyal, supportive and their performance will naturally improve when they know there is someone there to support and guide them, every step of the way.
If you want to get the most from your team and lead them towards success, you’ll need to develop your skills of empathy. When you do this, you’ll foster a greater sense of belonging in the workplace, resolve conflict more effectively and become a better leader.
Lisa Evans helps professionals to develop the soft skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Lisa is a certified business coach and experienced and accredited trainer, and a professional speaker. Lisa is a GENOS Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, which means she is certified to deliver the GENOS range of Emotional Intelligence Workshops and Developmental Assessments.
She has coached over a thousand leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales, and not-for-profit and community associations.
If you’d like to chat about how Lisa can help your team excel with the right soft skills, please contact us.
Soft Skills Training Workshops include:
The Emotionally Intelligent Leader includes a GENOS 180° leadership assessment.
The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace
Executive Presence for Leaders
Public Speaking for Leaders
The Leader as Storyteller
Communicate with Influence
Improv Skills for Leaders