21st century leadership is moving away from the traditional leadership hierarchy of the past and embracing a more approachable leadership style. Leaders are climbing down from their lofty positions of power and forging a more human-to-human connection with their team(s). This shift in leadership styles is largely fueled by research from thought leaders such as Pat Lencioni and Brené Brown who acknowledge the value of empathy in leadership and is driven by employees who, in this age of social media, equate transparency with trustworthiness.
Vulnerability – the precursor to empathy
Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability. – Brené Brown
Empathy is putting ourselves in the shoes of another in order to truly understand their experience. This simply cannot be done without being willing to be vulnerable. When you’re empathetic, you’re taking a risk; you risk feeling something that may be uncomfortable or even painful. The benefit for those willing to be empathetic is connection and fulfillment. Leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and extend empathy forge a connection with their team members that cannot be created any other way.
Employees want transparent leadership
Why is transparent leadership so important? According to “5 Powerful Things Happen When A Leader Is Transparent,” a September 10, 2012 article in Forbes;
“Being transparent is a powerful thing, if you can trust yourself and be trusted by others. The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage and gravitas. This is the problem with most leaders, they are not aware of the reality that exists around them. People want to relate to [their] leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and/or how they have overcome personal hardships.”
“We are all living during a time when people want and expect their leaders to be more human, less perfect and at times a bit vulnerable – regardless of hierarchy or rank.”
Transparency unifies teams, increases trust between team members and their leaders and increases workplace productivity. When a leader exhibits transparency, they allow others to see them without pretense. This creates an environment that fosters vulnerability – which occurs in the context of relationship – and opens up the doors for empathy.
Empathetic leaders foster healthier workplaces
“To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded. We have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.’
Conversely, ‘the greatest barrier to courageous leadership is not fear—it’s how we respond to our fear. Our armor—the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability—move us out of alignment with our values, corrode trust with our colleagues and teams, and prevent us from being our most courageous selves.” – Brené Brown
When leaders show up as their true selves and relate to their teams with vulnerability and empathy, a bridge of trust is built. Employees know that they are accepted for who they are, that they are indeed part of a team and that what they contribute matters. When they know that they are valued and can trust their leaders, team members are motivated to do their best and make a difference in their workplace by applying themselves more fully to their work.
How can leaders develop and increase empathy?
Regardless of the size of your business, fostering empathetic leadership will have a positive impact on morale and productivity. Here are some great ways to do this:
- Listen: As a leader, take the time in and out of the workplace to listen to people from different walks of life who hold different opinions and have their own unique experiences. Allow your employees to voice their concerns with you in a supportive environment.
- Slow down: Instead of shooting off that quick email, consider holding an in-person meeting. Slow down and take the time to interact face-to-face with your employees. This will give everyone the opportunity to dialogue and it will give you the opportunity to listen empathetically.
- Ask questions: Take a genuine interest in the perspectives and opinions of your employees. “Can you tell me more about your take on that?” or “Do you see a better way to accomplish this goal?” are easy questions you can ask that give your employees permission to voice their opinions, be heard and feel valued.
- Get involved: Consider partnering with a charitable organization. This gives you and your employees the opportunity to work alongside each other to make an impact in the community. Volunteering increases empathy and helps you put yourself in the shoes of another – identifying with their needs and meeting these needs in a practical way.
Would you like to foster more empathy and engagement in your workplace? Get in touch with us, we have tools and programs specifically designed to help you create this in your workplace!