When people think of what a leader should be, you often hear words like “fearless” or “brave” thrown out. Not often enough do people praise a leader for being empathetic. This may be because some people view empathy as a soft skill and take “soft” too personally. Practicing empathy as a leader does not make you look “weak” to your team members. Instead, it helps them feel seen and heard. Here are five ways to incorporate empathy into your leadership practices.
Be Available to Your Team
The first step to being an empathetic leader is to be available to your team. How are you supposed to know how your team is holding up if you don’t take the time to meet and check up on them? This may sound harder than it truly is. Instead of finding time within the day to be available for your team, intentionally set time aside for them.
Block off time in your calendar to purposefully be available if a team member needs help. If the time block is not needed, then at least you were able to set time aside to focus on getting work done. Even taking a few minutes to walk around your department and check in can be helpful. Ask how the day is going and do they have any issues you might help with. If you’ve noticed a change in someone, ask how they are doing and comment on the answer. In most cases, when team members see that you care enough to make time for them, they will appreciate the effort.
Take a Personal Interest
Being an empathetic leader goes beyond caring about your team member’s work problems. Empathy can take leadership a step further by being invested in who your team members are outside of work. Creating a personal interest in who your team members are can help them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, which is entirely accurate. A team cannot function properly with only one person, and a leader without a team is not much of a leader. When team members see that a leader’s passion goes beyond trying to fulfill a quota, it can bring a group closer together.
Be Fully Present
When a team member brings something to your attention, it is crucial to be present when listening. Being present goes beyond just being there and hearing what is being said. Being present for your team members means you focus on hearing and understanding what they are saying and why they are saying it. When you are fully present, make an effort to silence your phone. Don’t scan the room, focusing on other things than the person in front of you, don’t check your watch, and don’t try to solve the problem for them immediately. By devoting your time to being completely present for your team member, you show that you are trying to put yourself in their shoes.
In addition to being present when listening, it is essential to remember that an empathetic leader shouldn’t interrupt team members when they are talking. Even though you may have a great idea to solve a team member’s problem, your ideas can wait until the team member has gotten everything they need off their chest. Interruptions can distract the speaker from their train of thought and make them feel like their struggles are being rushed. When team members feel this way, team members work as individuals instead of as a unified group. Overall, avoiding interruptions when listening to a team member shows them that they are respected and what they have to say is important.
Watch for Signs of Burnout
One final way to lead with empathy is to watch your team for signs of burnout. While work can be important, it is crucial to remember that team members are people first and employees second. No matter how stressful a job situation may be, recognize that people have lives outside of work that could be equally if not more stressful. Because of this, a good leader should make it a point to make sure that they do not contribute to the stress a team member may face. A way to help team members who show signs of burnout is to block off time and discuss their situation and perhaps which tasks might be offloaded onto others, at least temporarily.
Stressed employees end up leaving the stressful situations they face. Empathetic leadership can help ensure that your office doesn’t contribute to employee stress! For more ways to incorporate empathy into your leadership practices, watch the Bigger Brains course, Empathy, The Key to Active Listening!