The internet is full of blogs about managers and what makes them great leaders. But there is a key leadership trait that is less spoken about.
And it’s empathy.
Of course, you need to be more than just an empathetic human being to be able to lead people. But the power to understand and listen attentively is crucial to a leader’s success.
To become a good manager and leader, you must possess the skills required to not only understand your team but also enable them to fully understand each other.
Why Managers need to be Empathetic Leaders
There are multiple theories around why managers need to be empathetic. But in the end, it all narrows down to one single fact.
All of us (managers and team members included) are human beings. And we will at some point think emotionally. And empathy gives you the ability to understand your team’s emotions.
When managers can build a deeper understanding with their team members, communication and problem-solving becomes smooth and easy. And empathy is what fuels it.
Empathetic Manager: Dos and don’ts
There are a lot of ways that would help you better understand your team’s emotions. But to be able to do that, you need to ‘feed’ yourself first.
For instance, in an effort to be more present for your team, you respond to every text immediately, take every call, and say yes to what your team asks for. But it might not be the best for you or your team.
Since you are the one who is leading the team, you need to have complete clarity on goals, objectives, and tasks. And only then you can organize and prioritize things well for your team. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You are also a team member. So you cannot be an exception to anything that you’re telling the team to do. Everyone has to be treated equally because they are part of one team.
- It is ideal to set healthy boundaries around communication within the team.
- Do not try to solve and tackle every hurdle at once. Things take time, you need to pace yourself.
- Even leaders need advisors and sometimes can struggle with things. Seek the community for help and advice.
Be a good listener
Consider every conversation you have with your team members as an opportunity to forge relationships and build trust. And one of the easiest ways to do this is by simply listening to what your team has to say.
But simply listening can also be tough at times. It is best to have a few rules in place to enable you to carefully listen and communicate.
Remember what we learned in play school – be attentive, do not interrupt, and stay focused. This is all you need to be a better listener.
Don’t: Do not expect your team to not ask silly questions. Your team needs a free space for ideas to easily flow and that can only happen when they can communicate without restrictions.
See things from your team’s perspective
You probably know it already – the simplest way to understand someone’s emotions is by putting yourself in their shoes.
If a team member missed a deadline, try to figure out what went wrong and why they weren’t able to meet it. Or if they made a mistake in reviewing a piece of content, try to see things from their perspective and understand what went wrong.
Don’t: There is a fair chance that after seeing things from your team’s perspectives, you realize that your team members couldn’t get things done just because they are lazy. And there’s a right way to deal with it too. Do not discourage your team members or give them a scolding. That rarely works out for anyone.
Instead, try talking to your team members and helping them understand that managing their time well will enable them to get things done easily and quickly. If your team member comes out of this situation successfully, they will have higher accountability for all their work and more trust in you.
Build a personal relationship
Building a strong personal bond with your team can benefit you in more ways than you think:
- It gives you insights into how your team members communicate and work together.
- Team members feel more connected and valued.
- Helps in aligning your team’s way of thinking.
- Brews more innovative ideas and enhances the quality of discussion.
- Quicker identification and solving of problems.
Don’t: Building a personal relationship does not mean invading your team member’s personal space. Remember that you’re trying for your team to be more comfortable with their work. So you need to give them the space needed to deliver their best work.
The power of empathy
“The emotional turmoil caused by COVID-19 has resulted in workforce burnout and has prompted us to reflect on and reframe what makes a great leader or manager. Empathy, [which was] once considered a ‘nice to have,’ now needs to be woven into corporate culture. Not all leaders are at ease sharing personal anecdotes or their emotions. But by shifting tone and focus and showing vulnerability, leaders who practice empathy will increase employee engagement, drive inclusion and innovation in the workforce, and foster company loyalty.” – Silke Muenster, Chief Diversity Officer of PMI
With empathy, you can foster a culture of trust, open communication, and highly motivated team members. It is, in fact, one of the most powerful skills to effectively lead a team.