E - Empathy. Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Empathetic Leader?
It’s one of those inexplicit words everyone thinks they know what it means, but are we really sure? We know empathy focuses on other people’s emotions, but it’s always confused with sympathy. This week, we’ll take a closer look at empathy, what characteristics empathetic leaders have, and why empathy is important to effective leadership.
The True Meaning of Empathy
To understand empathy, let’s clarify what it is not; and that is sympathy. Sympathy can be discouraging to someone, as it may mean you take pity upon them, which does in fact disempower someone.
Empathy on the other hand is the feeling that you understand, share feelings and experiences or connect with someone i.e. your peers or your team and as a result enables you as a leader to lead your organization more effectively.
What are the Characteristics of an Empathetic, Effective Leader?
There are three key characteristics to empathetic, effective leaders:
A Leader who listens to his/her people
Displays high Emotional Intelligence
This is why the“2 Ears-1 Mouth Rule” is so important. Leaders should spend more time listening than talking. They should be empathetic and at the same time focusing on the person they are speaking with. In this day and age, there are so many disruptions around us, which can notably affect the quality of skills in listening and understanding. One of my favourite books of all time is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I remember the first time I read it and one of the key points that stayed in my mind is people will always remember how you make them feel - so make them feel like they are the most important person in the world. As a leader this is definitely something that I have strived for.
Good leaders should not be judgmental, even when they may not agree with different acts or behaviours of their team. Good leaders accept and appreciate that everyone is different and can spot the ‘why’ someone may behave a certain way and see the heart of the person rather than their behaviour. As a result may also be able to guide them in the right direction by coming from a place of love. They accept what their people are feeling and understand how those emotions may influence their perceptions, without giving passing judgment whether those emotions are right or wrong.
Finally, emotional intelligence is essential to empathetic leaders. Great leaders understand that when emotions are high, logic is low. Therefore, in an emotional situation its always important to remember this as a rule and therefore always compose themselves to act in a professional manner as they also understand that they are serving as a role model to their team and their behaviour will also shape how the team behaves in an emotional or challenging situation.