As a leader, you might have spent a lot of your time developing skills and qualities you believe may help you become a more effective leader for your organization. Usually, qualities such as creativity, strategizing, and people skills are a few of the most common skills that leaders chose to work on.
However, while those skills are important, there is one skill that most leaders often overlook. The skill that allows you to connect with others, a skill that makes us human — empathy.
Research from DDI found that empathy is a critical leadership skill that every leader should hone and practice. Even though empathy is often considered a soft skill, the Center for Creative Leadership found that it is actually one of the most important drivers of overall performance amongst leaders.
Importance of empathy in business and leadership
Due to the pandemic, many employees are burnt out and many industries are having a harder time finding talent with the necessary skills. This is where empathy comes into play, as it can help improve employee retention. Because regardless of job titles or roles, we are all human beings with emotions.
Moreover, being able to understand the emotions of your employees will help you become a better leader, communicator, and problem solver. Empathy helps you to build trusting relationships that will be the key to improving employee performance and loyalty.
What’s more is that being an empathetic leader helps you understand your customers’ desires and pain points better. This will allow you to build more customer-centric products and services — boosting your overall business performance and profits.
Unfortunately, even though the importance of empathy in leading a successful business cannot be ignored, a DDI study found that only about 40% of business leaders exhibit strong empathy skills.
How to become a more empathetic leader
Luckily, empathy is a skill that you can practice and hone, so if you want to improve your emotional intelligence and become a more empathetic leader, here are 5 ways to develop your empathy skills.
1. Acknowledge that we are all human
The first step to becoming a more empathetic leader is to acknowledge that your employees are human beings who have emotions, different personalities, different needs and personal lives outside of work.
The pandemic has confronted leaders with the human factor, having children around, having to deal with barking dogs or delivery people in the middle of a meeting has truly changed the way we do work.
By noticing and accepting that your team members are real people, you can gain unique perspectives and insights on their lives, and their contributions to the company. Supported with these insights, you can offer your employees better support and accommodate their needs before they even ask. This is an effective way to connect with your employees and generate loyalty.
2. Build a relationship with your team
Being empathetic is all about understanding others’ emotions. You can become better at being empathetic by putting in the effort to get to know your team and build a relationship with them. By doing this, you can learn how they communicate their feelings, because people express their emotions and thoughts differently, so taking the time to understand how they communicate is crucial.
Asking your team members about their personal lives and interests will also make them feel seen and valued. That they are more than just a cog in the machine for your company. This will increase loyalty and start a supportive and communicative culture that is the foundation of building a solid and high-performing team.
3. Practice Active Listening
One of the most effective ways to practice empathy is to improve your active listening skill. Listening is how people build rapport, relationships, and share suggestions or ideas that will help grow your business.
The problem is, many people think that they are listening when they are simply hearing someone out without fully understanding and paying attention. Active listening requires the listener to understand more than just the words being said, but also the emotions, non-verbal cues, and tone of voice — clues that reflect how the speaker truly feels.
Active listening will make you a better communicator, problem-solver, and most importantly, show your employees that you value their opinions and ideas — that you value and appreciate them.
You can learn more about active listening by clicking here
4. See things from their perspective
It can be challenging to get a read on your teams’ emotions, especially when they are new to the company. New employees tend to avoid showing their true emotions to their new colleagues and supervisors. They will be less likely to open up about their opinions and feelings so early in their job.
So what can you do in this situation? You need to step into their shoes and ask questions like: What would you do in that situation? How would you feel? What do you expect from your peers or your supervisor? Use these insights and ask them more detailed questions — this might just be the thing that will get them to open up to you.
5. Seek leadership coaching
Like any other skill, empathy can be learned and practiced. Some people will experiment on their own and try to find a balance that works best for them. However, others might find it more difficult to do so, and need more guidance in incorporating empathy into their leadership.
If you feel like you need expert guidance on how to become a better, more empathetic leader, seeking advice from mentors, coaches, or joining different classes or workshops can help you learn more about empathy.
Here at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching®, we incorporate empathy into leadership by helping leaders improve their active listening skills, encouraging exercises like feedforward, and our stakeholder-centered coaching process.
The ability to empathize with your team is one of the most powerful skills that a leader can have. Reach out to our program representative and learn more about how to become an empathetic leader today.