This post was inspired by the On The Mic W/ Ray White episode titled, “The 4 V’s of Empathetic Leadership.” You can listen to it by following this link or watching it on YouTube!
Leading While Young
When I first became a supervisor eight years ago in Healthcare IT, I was faced with the responsibility of leading 32 staff members who had a range of life experiences. At 25 years old, I was overseeing staff members who had been analysts on the team for as long as I had been alive!
Being intimidated was an understatement. I felt the pressure to take on the role of a leader with the expectation of having all the answers and telling others what to do. I was not in a position to be that “traditional” type of leader because I did not have the depth of knowledge my direct reports had in their field. Bullishly engaging my team in this way would have eroded trust and buy-in in my relationship with the team.
However, I have learned that approaching leadership with empathy and a desire to understand and connect with my team can go a long way in building trust and relationships. I started by attending their team huddles to listen to their perspective of their work and issues they saw on a daily bases.
I decided to station my desk in the hub of where my team worked instead of a secluded office to make myself available and be in the mix when problems arise.
My 1:1 meetings with each staff member were not only to discuss their work output but to also understand how they are navigating the work, what inspired them outside of work, and what they need to be successful in their role.
By showing that I care about my team’s success and well-being, rather than just focusing on getting the work done, I have been able to foster a more positive and supportive work environment.
The Power of Empathy
Empathy is a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time It is such a crucial component in how we interact and engage with one another. Some ways to do this include practicing active listening, self-reflection, and seeking diverse perspectives. As organizational leaders, it’s important to model empathy and encourage its development within our teams. It allows us to literally step into the shoes of others and understand their emotions, whether happy or sad.
By leading with empathy, we can gain a clear understanding of how our team members interact and engage with us, as well as how they respond to our personalities and the work we produce.
One of the best ways to build relationships within our teams and foster a sense of belonging is to lead with empathy. Leaders who possess this skill are able to truly connect with and engage their team members, not just seeking buy-in but creating a sense of community.
When we lead with empathy, we can help people feel seen, valued, and heard, leading to increased engagement and productivity within the organization. Leading with this perspective can improve communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution within the team. It can also lead to increased staff retention and engagement, resulting in increased productivity and success.
On the other hand, a lack of empathy can lead to high turnover and low engagement in the workplace. Staff members may leave their jobs or roles due to a lack of connection with their manager or leader.
When leaders view their team members as interchangeable cogs in the wheel, it can create a sense of disconnection and undervaluation. As a result, employees may feel motivated to seek out a different work environment where they feel more connected and valued.
As culture change agents, it’s our responsibility to lead with empathy and create a positive work environment for our team members. When we do this, we can expect to see a more cohesive and collaborative team dynamic, as well as increased motivation and morale.
The 4 V’s of an Empathetic Leader
So, how can we as leaders work to cultivate empathy within our teams? Here are four strategies, all starting with the letter “V” because, let’s be real, alliteration is just more memorable:
Examine the viewpoints of yourself and those around you. Take the time to understand how your own viewpoints and biases impact your interactions with others. Reflect on the viewpoints of your team members and consider how they may differ from your own.
By examining these viewpoints, we can better understand and appreciate the diverse experiences and perspectives of those around us. Envision solutions that consider the needs and perspectives of all parties involved.
When working on a problem or challenge, take the time to consider the needs and viewpoints of each team member. This can lead to more effective and creative solutions that take into account the unique experiences and perspectives of each team member.
It’s important to be visible and present in the spaces where our teams are already congregating. This is especially important in the virtual context, where people may feel intimidated by coming into our offices.
By taking the initiative to go out and be visible in these spaces, we can create a sense of empathy and understanding with our team. This means actively engaging and asking if it’s okay to be a part of their work and be present in the community with them.
When we are visible in our presence, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for our team.
Practice vulnerability in the spaces where we are present with our teams means not pretending to have all the answers and recognizing our limitations as leaders.
By being vulnerable and showing that we are human and have feelings too, we can create a sense of connectivity with our team. It’s also important to remember that this is a journey that we are all working on together, and by showing vulnerability, we can create a safe space for others to do the same.
By examining our viewpoints, being visible in our spaces, and practicing vulnerability, we can enhance our own worldview and foster deeper connections with the people around us.
Validate the emotions of others. Acknowledge and understand the feelings of your team members, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. This can be as simple as saying, “I can see that this is difficult for you” or “I understand how you might feel frustrated in this situation.”
While doing so in my leadership, I was able to hear and help resolve some of the team’s long-standing issues they’ve had with cross-team dynamics. One of the major issues was dysfunctional communication between teams, leaders, and other staff. I sat with teams to understand where they were coming from, and offered some quick resolution if necessary, but mainly listened to understand.
I saw trust between leadership and team increase because they had a leader who was willing to engage and listen, a characteristic that was not their previous leadership experience. Validating emotions helps create a sense of connection and understanding within the team.
Put your Empathy into Action
What action can organizational leaders take to engage their teams and lead with empathy? One simple but effective way is to regularly check in with team members and ask for their input and feedback. This can be done through one-on-one meetings, team meetings, or even just casual conversations. By actively seeking out the thoughts and feelings of our team members, we show them that we value their perspectives and are open to hearing their ideas.
It’s also important to create opportunities for team members to connect with one another and build relationships. This can be through team-building activities, social events, or even just encouraging open and honest communication within the team. When team members feel connected and supported by their colleagues, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged in their work.
In conclusion, leading with empathy is essential for creating a positive and productive work environment. It allows us to connect with and understand the emotions of those around us, leading to increased retention and engagement of staff. By examining your team’s viewpoints, being visible and present, practicing vulnerability with your team, and validating your team’s emotions, we can effectively lead with empathy and create a more cohesive and collaborative team dynamic.
Question and Action:
- How do you currently practice empathy in your leadership style?
- What are some ways you can actively seek out the thoughts and feelings of your team members?
- How can you create opportunities for team members to connect and build relationships with one another?
Action item: Set up one-on-one meetings with each team member to ask for their input and feedback on current projects and team dynamics.