According to a Qualtrics study, 61% of employees felt they were able to be more innovative, compared to just 13% of workers who had less empathetic leaders. Employee engagement also skyrockets with empathy. Qualtrics found 76% of people felt engaged when they experienced empathy from their leaders, whereas that figure was only 32% for employees who didn’t perceive their leaders as empathetic.
The Qualtrics report also discovered leading with empathy can bolster retention, enhance work-life balance and vastly improve employee mental health.
Now that we see the true value of it, here are four proven ways to lead effectively with empathy.
1. Actively listen to your employees
In order to genuinely appreciate what your team is feeling, you need to actively listen to them. Listening shows you understand their concerns, opinions and thoughts which demonstrates compassion; this helps to build trust and respect. When team members feel heard, that leads to a sense of recognition and they are more likely to go above and beyond for the company when they demonstrably see what they say really matters.
2. Bond with your team
Relationship building is a cornerstone of leading with empathy. Afterall, to get an accurate read on people’s emotions and appreciate their perspectives, you need to form a solid relationship with them. In a remote or hybrid environment, this means going the extra mile to communicate regularly with your people, whether it be via virtual team building sessions, check-ins or hosting online town halls and fun days. The key is talking with your team, putting yourself in their shoes and getting to know them, both personally and professionally.
3. Open up and show some vulnerability
Since 2020, the world has been bombarded with change, crisis and obstacles. We have all been through a lot from the pandemic and the fact is, no matter who you are or where you come from, problems are a constant part of life. To deepen your relationship with employees, a standout leader should open up about their own struggles. When a leader shows their own vulnerability, they create a safer space for employees to do the same. And when team members feel like they can also display vulnerability, they will they feel a sense of belonging and openness, as well as a stronger connection with leaders. Moreover, opening up about your own problems as a leader will help humanize you. In essence, it levels the playing field and that can yield inclusivity, improved mental health and major gains in productivity.
4. Take leadership training
Some people are more empathetic than others by nature. Some aren’t. Regardless, there are a host of leadership training courses now available that formally teach you about putting empathy into practice. Mary Ludden, an assistant teaching professor of Project Management at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies points out, “You must zealously commit as a leader to practice empathy as a rule. Understanding how external and internal forces impact your team’s ability to succeed will no doubt become a defining characteristic of your leadership style.”
By leading with empathy, you have the potential to foster an organizational culture where open communication, trust, recognition and personal connections are the norm. It is cultures like these that will flourish as our world of work continues to evolve.