One of the most popular leadership styles throughout history has been the authoritative/autocratic style of leadership. Famous leaders such as Ali Khamenei, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Vladimir Putin, Vlad Dracula and Engelbert Dollfuss, who have ruled with such a style have been studied and featured countless times. While there is no research or study that guarantees a particular style of ruling to be best, empathetic leadership seems unpopular and a difficult terrain to navigate because of several factors.
According to the U.S. Army, in its Army Field Manual on Leader Development (one of the best resources on leadership), it is repeatedly insisted that empathy is essential for competent leadership. A 2017 Forbes article backs this claim with the following explanation: Empathy enables you to know if the people you are trying to reach are reached. It allows you to predict the effect your decisions and actions will have on core audiences and strategize accordingly. Without empathy, you cannot build a team or nurture a new generation of leaders. You will not inspire followers or elicit loyalty. Empathy is essential in negotiations and sales: it allows you to know your target’s desires, and what risks they are or are not willing to take.
Empathy is the ability to understand things from another person’s perspective. It is the ability to share someone else’s feelings and emotions and understand why they are having those feelings. Empathetic leadership requires leaders to lead with their heart, to apply understanding and build sensitivity for both communities of customers and team members. With the belief that team efforts make the dream work, the empathetic leader gives focus to designing and building structures and imparting skills that would aid in delivering powerful and more compelling products and services.
Empathy is one of the most celebrated human skills these days. To be empathetic means that you are able to understand the opinions and biases of others as well as how their own history or position may influence their thoughts and reactions. This can help you in both work and personal relationships. Being empathetic means you suspend judgment and concentrate on understanding someone else’s perspective.
“Leaders with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways” – Daniel Goleman. According to psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman, there are three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how someone else feels and to work out what they might be thinking.
Emotional empathy refers to the ability to share another person’s emotions. This would mean when you see someone else who is sad, it makes you feel sad.
Compassionate empathy is when you take feelings to actions. It goes beyond understanding and relating to other people’s situations and pushed an individual to do something.
The Huff Post’s contributor, Anne Loehr discusses why empathy is important for members and leaders alike. “The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations reports a correlation between empathy and increased sales, high performing managers of product development teams, and increased performance in highly diverse teams. Studies have also shown that empathy improves leadership ability and facilitates effective communication.
How could this be? Well, if you think about how fundamental relationship building is to almost every aspect of business and life, it is easy to see why. It has been proven that empathy is an important part of effective relationships. In studies by Dr. Antonio Damasio, “medical patients who had damage to part of the brain associated with empathy showed significant deficits in relationship skills, even though their reasoning and learning abilities remained intact.”
Over the years, as a leader of a highly varied team consisting of members with different educational levels, I have come to understand that when an empathetic leader opens their heart to drive the softer part of their skill in the daily work process of teams, magic happens. True leadership in Simon Sinek’s words is about “empowering others to achieve things they didn’t think possible. Exceptional organizations, he says, “prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organization.”
In our quest as leaders to harness the best out of our human resources, we should be able to hand over the reins of both technical responsibilities and leadership responsibilities to our team members. In your individual capacity, you will be able to make progress, but a collaborative and collective effort of people who buy into your vision can achieve milestones light years ahead of your singular effort.
To lead with the heart first means to be human first in your leadership rather than plainly technical. It means to take risks with people sometimes through instinct, to be more attentive in listening to everyone’s contribution and to give the opportunity of leadership to all. “True leadership is not the bastion of a few who sit at the top. It is the responsibility of anyone who belongs to a group, and that means all of us. We all need to set up, take the risk and put our interests second – not always – but when it counts.” – Simon Sinek.
How can we use empathetic leadership to get a unique and original buy-in of our vision as leaders? What are the traits of an empathetic leader? What skills can we learn to augment our empathy in the work place? Here are my 4 key points that can help us on this journey:
- LISTEN TO LEAD
The common place in any human interaction lies in understanding. Before you can understand, you must listen. Listening is a skill may leaders struggle with because as humans, we are always more eager to be heard. But as leaders we must develop our active listening skills to the point that it becomes part of our nature; this is what draws people closer and makes them willing to work wholeheartedly with you because they feel your commitment to them. To get that unique buy-in and persuasion of your vision, it is pertinent to appreciate and incorporate the perspective of others to bring them on board. This is one gateway to building more solid and closer relationships with that of others in the workplace.
The Lifehack summarizes simple ways to help with listening skills. Firstly, provide the speaker with your undivided attention. Secondly, be non-judgmental. Do not minimize or trivialize the speaker’s issue. Then, read the speaker. Observe the emotions behind the words. Is the speaker angry, afraid, frustrated or resentful? Respond to the emotion as well as the words. Fourthly, be quiet. Do not feel you must have an immediate reply. Often if you allow for some quiet after the speaker has vented, they themselves will break the silence and offer a solution. Finally, assure your understanding. Ask clarifying questions and restate what you perceive the speaker to be saying.
- KEY INTO A DIVERSE PERSPECTIVE
To be able to understand the needs, plight or interest of the next person, you must go beyond the hard facts and put yourself in their shoes through your heart. From the other person’s perspective, you can better understand the situation. For instance, if an employee is having difficulty in delivering in their area of work, speaking to them and understanding the reasons they are failing to deliver as expected will help you in appreciating what they truly need to perform. It is a disaster to understand that given the ‘comfortable’ environment they may be in, they are supposed to deliver. “Empathy thus involves the ability to key into shared human values across diverse interpersonal contexts and cultures.” (Psychology Today) It is not about you and should not be about you. If you can begin to understand that everyone’s needs are different, you would be able to tailor solutions for team members to thrive.
- TAKE ACTION
“For empathy to be most effective and maximize well-being, we have to feel both the pain of another and also the optimism that we are not as pained and can do something about it.” (Very Well Mind) Do not simply listen and do nothing. Ask yourself what you can do to help the person’s situation. When your team members flourish, so do you.
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Adopt empathy as a habit and a lifestyle. Empathy should not be a task or a tool, but a daily conscious task to understand the needs of people to help them thrive. As mentioned earlier, empathy must be practiced to the point where it becomes part of our nature. It is a human skill that is continuously practiced by every leader whose company, organization or business is experiencing high productivity and employee engagement.
While these are just key steps of the journey, they are very critical if practiced to bring you to a place where you can have relevant conversations and make real connections. Simply start practicing and honing your empathy skill and watch as your customers and team members evolve to be of greater value to you.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Soft Skills Expert, Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Soft Skills Expert and Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
Dzigbordi has been featured on CNN for her entrepreneurial expertise. She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017.
She can be reached on [email protected] and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.