What is empathetic leadership?

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In recent years the words ‘organisational empathy’ have been appearing far more frequently in the global business world as leaders unpack the deep power and impact this skillset has on their workplace. At a fundamental level, empathy is the ability to take the perspective of others. It’s an evolutionary skillset we are all born with however, despite its rising recognition, we are seeing a deficit of its leverage across industries in Sri Lanka, regardless of its proven performance benefits.

Mimi Nicklin

Without being able to understand the realities of your employees and understand their diverse viewpoints and experiences, it is nearly impossible to inspire and lead organisational success, and even harder to make significant cultural decisions or drive innovation that truly resonates. As a leader today, the ability to understand the realities of an inclusive team is a complex commitment – but it is one that is critical if you are to sustainably enhance team performance and output, and drive long term customer loyalty.

Empathy is no longer a buzzword, or a once-off training course from the HR team, but a critical path that the C-suite needs to take to ensure holistic growth in a tumultuous and changing business world, particularly as we face rising resignations and disengagement at scale.

Entrenching understanding into your leadership style and leveraging the Empathy Advantage is a conscious shift. Here are 5 proven tips to start the journey… 

1) Be – and stay – curious 

Empathy is about enquiry and connection, and there is no better way to achieve this than to commit to frequently asking questions and listening to the responses. The most engaging of leaders are those with an ongoing curiosity to understand those around them. Getting to know your team on a person-to-person level means you will understand them beyond their business results alone and can therefore motivate, inspire, and energise them on a higher level. 

2) Don’t underestimate the power of small gestures 

Showing you are interested in and committed to your team doesn’t have to involve a pre-planned corporate event or offsite. In fact, a small act of engagement can have far more impact in terms of recognising and appreciating your team. A simple “thank you”, a cup of tea or a shout-out in a meeting to praise their work can all signal that you truly understand and are aware of the individuals in your team.

3) Drop the distractions

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person has been tapping away on their laptop or looking at their phone as they talk? Not only can it be incredibly frustrating, but it can also make you feel like they don’t value what you have to say. We can all be guilty of picking up our phone and getting sidetracked with emails, calls and texts, but if you’re having a conversation with someone, it’s important not to let these distractions get in the way. If it’s worth speaking about, it’s worth listening to, so leave that phone alone and shutdown your emails whilst you talk. 

4) Practice active listening 

The most effective way to create more empathy and truly connect with someone is to ensure that when you hear, you actively listen to what they are saying. Concentrate on their words, make eye contact, nod as they go, and don’t interrupt. When people feel they are heard, they are motivated and connected. Not only do they share with more insight but you gain access to more valuable content and build your shared trust and rapport.

5) Practise patience: 

Leaders that actively allow people the time they need to complete their opinions, recommendations and ideas receive a far deeper and more consistent set of all three. By ensuring you don’t interrupt people as they share, or jump in during moments of silence, your team are able to fully contribute and add value to the conversation and context you are sharing. By doing so, they feel heard and confident, allowing them to perform at their peak, and you ensure you are getting the most out of the business expertise your surround yourself with.

Mimi Nicklin is the Creative CEO and Founder of inclusive creative agency Freedm, a leading empathy expert, and best-selling author of Softening The Edge. Her book and training courses are available island wide. For more information go to https://www.empathyeverywhere.co/ 


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