Empathy in Leadership: How to Improve Your Management Style

Great leaders must be strong, confident and resilient. They make difficult decisions and give direction when times are tough.

So, how does a soft skill like empathy in leadership factor into the management equation? Simon Sinek, a best-selling author, TEDx speaker, and expert in team-building says,

“Exceptional organizations prioritize the wellbeing of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organization.”

When each person feels like a valuable part of a team, rather than a replaceable cog in a machine of exploitation, the entire team benefits.

You can create more impact within your organization by factoring empathy into the leadership equation. Here are a few ways to improve your management style by practicing empathy.

1. Make every person feel valued

One person leading kindly, on an individual level, can dramatically impact the successes experienced by an entire team. It’s no secret that a person is more likely to go over and above her expected tasks when she knows her work will be appreciated.

This doesn’t mean that leaders need to be psychiatrists, excuse others for repeatedly irresponsible actions, or even agree with others. Practicing empathy simply means coming from a place of understanding rather than judgment. The presence of empathetic leaders has been linked in several studies to heightened management performance, better product development quality, and increased sales. Therefore, an emotional characteristic within a leader can directly correlate with tangible production rates.

In Dr. Daniel Goleman’s Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes a Leader?”, the three most important reasons why empathy is so crucial to business success are highlighted: widespread team projects, increasing globalization (causing potential cultural misunderstandings), and the need for long-term work relationships, such as with contractors.

Goleman states: “Leaders with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them: They use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways… thoughtfully consider[ing] employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.”

2. Fully understand the benefits of empathy in leadership

Creating a culture of respect, not fear is a more productive goal for the modern leader. Click To Tweet

Not everyone has mastered empathy over the years — but there can be repercussions to leaders creating a disconnect between themselves and their teams.

As Jayson M. Boyers mentioned in a Forbes article, “Business success depends on empathetic leaders who are able to adapt, build on the strengths around them, and relate to their environment. When businesses fail, it is often because leaders have stopped focusing on understanding their environment intimately and instead stay insulated in their own operations. Successful business leaders are… innately aware of what is going on in their organizations both internally and externally.”

Leaders need to be in tune with the signs of the times, and they also need to be aware of what is going on in the individual and collective minds of their teams. As Boyers states, “Successful people do not operate alone; each of us needs the support of others to achieve positive results that push us toward our goals.”

Today’s leaders don’t need to rule with an iron fist — respect rather than fear is a more productive goal for the modern leader. And, the best way to gain respect is to give it. Empathy in leadership is one of the best ways to create a supportive, positive work environment, reduce the likelihood of turnover rates, and increase overall production within your team.

3. Fake it till you make it

In today’s business culture, it literally pays to be kind and attentive. Click To Tweet

If you’re not naturally an empathetic, or even sympathetic person, think about the ways in which you can learn to be! Try the following approaches:

  • Take a mental break from your own “daily grind”. This includes your background, daily demands, personal life, and so on. Forget who you are for one hour, and approach your team as if they were strangers.
  • Invite your team members into your office for a one-on-one. Get to know who they are, their background, their passions, and strengths, as well as what they enjoy about their job, and what can be improved.
  • Take notes, not judgments. Get to know everyone on an individual level and you may be surprised with the bubbling ideas and an enormous amount of talent that surrounding you.
  • Think about how you can translate the wealth and diversity of talent into a culture of mutual empathy.
  • Create short term goals to achieve lifelong visions, and the results will likely surprise you.

In today’s business culture, it literally pays to be kind and attentive. So what are you waiting for?! Upgrade your management style by adding empathy in leadership to your day-to-day management and decisions. The results may surprise you.

What are your thoughts on empathetic leadership? Do you have anything to add to this article in terms of how to achieve a culture of empathy? Please share in the comments below!