Objective Empathy: How Leaders Must Manage this Vital Skill
Touted as one of the most important leadership skills, empathy fosters human connection and trust. This valuable trait allows employees to see each other as comrades, rather than competition. With that being said, many leaders prefer not to get too close to their staff. For one, they don’t want to mix personal issues with business; they draw a definitive line between what warrants attention in the workplace and what ought to be left at the door. But how exactly, do managers determine where that line is?
This is where mindfulness comes into practice. Without empathy, leaders won’t have the ability to understand their staff, which is a recipe for disaster. No matter how much managers may prefer to maintain an emotional barrier around them, this behaviour won’t produce a positive result. In fact, it usually generates a great deal of animosity from employees, as they’ll feel their leader doesn’t care for their well being.
Why Empathy is Important
Empathetic leaders increase employee morale by creating connection and inspiring trust. In turn, they reduce employee turnover and create strong company loyalty. They are able to understand exactly what motivates their staff, both as individuals and as a team. Moreover, they will understand why particular individuals are struggling, and when it may be out of their control.
With that being said, there is an art to practicing empathy correctly. Many leaders strive to understand another person’s perspective; however, they don’t always grasp the full scope of how their employees are affected. Often they may try to imagine how they would feel in a given scenario, but fail to grasp an individual’s viewpoint. Instead, leaders must strive to see things through the individual’s eyes. While this is easier said than done, it is a more honest form of understanding and communication.
While empathy is necessary for almost any relationship, be it professional or personal, it isn’t always productive. Leaders may find themselves prioritizing one individual’s well-being over others in their team. Even worse, certain individuals may start taking advantage. In turn, this may cause friction between colleagues in addition to resentment toward superiors. With this in mind, leaders must ensure that they are mindful of their emotional responses.
Moreover, they must create a distance between their initial reactions and the actions that follow them. Like a balancing act, they cannot allow too much time to pass before an action is taken either, or forget how someone’s perspective affected them. Otherwise, employees may feel that the response was disingenuous. Objective empathy involves being mindful of one’s emotional response, while still practicing compassion.