One of the hardest skills in leadership is a soft skill known as empathy. Most leaders are very knowledgeable about the hard skills that helped raise them to their current operational positions, but social skills are sometimes elusive to even the most successful CEO. This can have a very detrimental impact on employee morale, leading to poor service and high staff turnover. It’s important to learn how to be empathetic, especially in a leadership position. This applies to both cognitive and emotional empathy.
There are several different leadership styles, but not all of them are conducive to being empathetic towards employees. Studies show that companies thrive much better with an empathetic leader at the helm. They work well because they have a leader who is more understanding of other people’s ideas and thoughts. They also earn peoples’ trust. This applies to employees, partners, customers, and the community.
The first skill to master is active vs passive listening. An active listener knows that their job is to let the speaker feel heard and validated. Maintain eye contact, nod your head to show agreement about points being made, and really hear what your employee is saying. Do not interrupt them until they have finished speaking. It helps to remind yourself that you are only as successful as your team. They are a vital part of your organization and they should be treated as such. Ask follow-up questions to not only show you heard and understand their concerns but also to offer helpful feedback about problem-solving. The democratic style of leadership involves bringing in staff from multiple levels to help solve an issue.
In addition to actively listening and being fully present, empathetic leaders leave judgments at the door when handling conflict issues or making business deals. They are capable of disengaging from their own personal biases towards others in terms of agreement or disagreement. They have an open mind that understands we all view things in our own perspective, based on our own perceptions and view of the world. Empathetic leaders welcome those differences because it means expanding their own knowledge about things. Others’ perspectives are a welcome blessing, not something to turn away from.