Leading With Empathy

Gone are the days of punching in, keeping quiet, and punching out. Today, employees want genuine connections at work from their managers and coworkers alike. EY’s empathy in business report found that mutual empathy between leaders and employees creates a safe, agile culture that increases efficiency, creativity, job satisfaction and innovation. That said, 52% of employees perceive corporate empathetic attempts as inauthentic. So, what can leaders do to build an authentic and empathetic work environment?

Defining Workplace Sympathy vs Empathy

Before learning how to lead with empathy, it is important to know how it differs from sympathy. These two are often confused making it important to note how each relates to the workplace.

  • Empathy: Those with empathy perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. This allows them to genuinely understand a situation, or the emotions behind the situation, from the other person’s perspective. This allows them to react compassionately.
  • Sympathy: Sympathy is often defined as experiencing thoughts or feelings of pity for another person. This is often a reaction without a true understanding of the other’s situation. If not expressed appropriately, generalized sympathy may come across as disingenuous.

Leaders should aim to lead with empathy when navigating tough topics and situations within the workplace. By leading with empathy, all levels of employees will establish stronger connections, enhancing relationships and performance.

Why Lead With Empathy?

An incredible 89% of employees agree that empathy contributes to better management. Through this style, leaders will see a direct impact on company numbers.

  • Productivity 85% of leaders saw increased productivity when leading with empathy.
  • Turnover – Without empathy, 58% of employees reported leaving a job because they didn’t feel valued by their manager and 48% reported leaving because they didn’t feel they belonged. Through empathetic leadership, these numbers will see the opposite effect.
  • Revenue81% of businesses saw an increase in revenue after the transition in leadership style. This can be attributed to employee engagement. Catalyst found, 76% of people with highly empathic senior leaders reported high levels of work engagement. They also reported higher levels of creativity, innovation and idea-sharing.
  • Inclusivity – 50% of those working under empathetic leaders said their workplace felt inclusive, compared to 17% feeling included under a less empathetic leadership style.

How To Lead with Empathy

  • Adjust The Mindset – Leaders can demonstrate empathy in two distinct ways: cognitively and emotionally.
    • For leaders who lean away from the emotional approach, consider implementing cognitive empathy. Ask yourself the question, “If I were in their position, what would I be thinking right now?” Posing this question is an act of cognitive empathy.
    • For leaders who more naturally connect with the emotional side, consider emotional empathy. This thought process requires leaders to put themselves in their employees’ shoes. Using the altered perspective when making decisions is acting with emotional empathy.
  • Checking In – Checking in on your employees comes in many styles. For example, stay interviews will give you valuable insight into employees’ work lives, as well as the internal health of the company. Less formally, take a couple of extra minutes each week to sincerely check in on your employees.
  • Active Listening – The most successful leaders do not only consider others’ emotions but listen. They express concern and inquire about their employees’ challenges. When engaging with employees, show sincere interest in active listening. Maintain eye contact and naturally repeat notable pieces of the conversation. This will not only help you remember the topic at hand but will open lines of communication.
  • Actionable Assistance – People don’t often remember what you say, they remember what you do. Actionable empathy is understanding an employee’s struggles and then offering to help. It can be as simple as considering a team member’s perspective and making a new recommendation that helps the team grow.

Empathy has been proven to build positive relationships, company culture and drive business results. While empathy is not a new idea, it has grown into a new level of importance in today’s world. Research has made it especially clear how empathy in leadership translates to leadership competency. If leaders are expected to adapt quickly, this style is a simple and proven way to keep employees happy. If you want to learn more about leading with empathy, AJO would love to help. Contact us today.

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Post by AJO

Founded on core family values and a commitment to building strong, long-lasting partnerships, AJO approaches its work with confidence and expertise that only comes with over 40 years in the business. Working with companies of all sizes, needs and budgets, AJO develops high-performing teams and global leaders for organizational success.