Why Empathy Is Important in Leadership During These Uncertain Times


The true test of leadership is whether people will follow you just because they are curious. Leadership happens from any chair, as a CEO, mother or friend. No title, no means to reward or to punish your followers.

In challenging times, it may seem that iron-fisted leadership would be effective, but only empathetic leaders can tap into the collective wisdom of teams and organizations to help them weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side.

In this article we will discuss the benefits of using an empathetic leadership style when moving forward under this time’s constraints. We will also discuss the various ways you can access your inner empathic leader.

At Noble Leadership Institute Empathic leadership is a cornerstone of what we inspire in others, refer to our approach for yourself to learn about how we encourage courageous and caring leaders.


Empathetic Leadership in Challenging Times

Today, as many businesses are struggling with the “new normal” of the Coronavirus pandemic, leaders need to tap into the collective wisdom and experience of their team and engage them to streamline operations, improve productivity, stay focused, and find solutions to increase revenue.

“We’re in this together” is the underlying theme that will help your organization weather the storm, and empathy is the only way to foster that sentiment throughout the company.

Leadership is being tested right now. People are working from home, which for many comes with challenges they’ve never experienced before.

What can you say, as a leader, to help people juggle work, kids, and social isolation? How can you ease their fears about the future? What questions can you ask that encourage people to share unorthodox ideas for getting through this? How can you demonstrate to your employees that you wish for them to be safe and well? What can you do to make sure people want to open up and communicate with you?

Telling employees to buckle down and stay focused is cruelly dismissive of the challenges they are facing, and makes them feel like you are more concerned with your bottom line as opposed to their wellbeing. Flip this around. Make it about them, not about “productivity” or “objectives” and they will reward you with outstanding efforts.

While a lot of belt-tightening will likely occur, you can still make your employees feel important and valued. Show, don’t tell, that you care and make your employees feel that “we are in this together” and you might just unleash your team’s collective genius, spark innovative ideas, and solve many of the challenges the organization is facing.

At Noble Leadership Institute we are focused on developing capable leaders and one of the most important aspects of this process is empathy in leadership. Learn more about Noble Leadership Institute.


Cultivating Empathy

Empathy comes from curiosity about others, concern for their wellbeing, and a genuine desire to understand. The same applies to empathic leadership.

Empathetic leaders demonstrate empathy by listening, which makes people feel valued and leads them to adopt a “we’re in this together” attitude. Listening is one of the key ways to foster an empathetic environment and utilize an empathetic leadership style.

Take a quick empathy test:

• Do you listen deeply or do you judge the message or the speaker, even a little?

• Do you fully accept the validity of the speaker’s perspective if it contradicts your own; and

if their ideas contradict yours, do you mentally shut off, even a little?

• Do you accept or even consider ideas and solutions from the lowest ranked employees and if not, why?

To cultivate empathy, be curious

Listen more than you speak and find out what makes people tick. Ask them about their lives outside of work, their hobbies, and their passions. Discover their dreams. Find out what makes their hearts sing. Discover what’s fascinating and awesome about each and every team member.

Being curious informs change. The benefits of being curious are endless and will inform how you approach life moving forward.

Does this sound uncomfortably touchy-feely?

Look in the mirror. Whatever your personal and professional goals, you aren’t any different from your employees, you want to feel that you matter. Your employees want a leader they can trust, a leader who cares about them, a leader who appreciates them, a leader who guides but also trusts them, and a leader who is approachable and respectful.

Think about empathy as the art of becoming a leader that people will want to follow to the ends of the earth to achieve shared goals.

When it comes to overcoming challenging situations, be open to all ideas, no matter the source:

• People who are “in” the job know where things flow with ease and where they’re stuck or inefficient.

• People have different strengths; you can’t leverage their strengths if you don’t know what

they are.

• People may have creative ideas and offer out-of-the-box solutions based on their unique

backgrounds and experiences in different jobs or industries.

• People will give their best only when you make them feel like they matter and that you

appreciate their efforts.

Why Is Empathy So Rare in Business?

Lack of empathy in a leader has serious consequences including low morale, poor productivity, a “why bother?” attitude and high turnover. Few leaders want to be seen as tyrants, but the business world is notorious for lacking empathy due to some unfortunate business beliefs:

• Showing empathy is soft and weak: “It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.”

• Because you’re the boss, people will blindly obey.

• Because you’re the boss, employees can’t possibly know more than you.

• We must achieve the company’s objectives at any cost.

Consider the impact of these common complaints:

• Leaders: “My people never say what’s on their minds.”

• Employees: “My boss(es) never listen to what we have to say if it doesn’t agree with their

approach. I feel like an expendable cog in the machine, like I don’t even matter.”

See how these perceptions clash, and why lack of empathy grinds open communication to a halt and erodes trust?

Empathy fosters trust and teamwork. People will volunteer information, ideas, concerns and solutions only when they feel safe approaching you knowing they won’t be ridiculed, dismissed, or reprimanded. They will give their best only when they feel that they matter.

Empathy in leadership is so important to us at Noble Leadership Institute. If you feel that your workplace is lacking team cooperation and communication, a lack of empathy could be the issues.Reach out to Noble Leadership Institute today to learn how our approach and programs can encourage empathetic leadership in your office.

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