A leader’s primary role in any organization is to create an environment that allows people to survive and thrive. To do this effectively leaders must understand what people need, what they value and what barriers may exist that might keep them from achieving their goals. Their management style needs to be firmly employee-focused.
That requires empathy. Empathy is one of the core components of emotional intelligence, or EI, a concept developed by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in the 1990s and later expanded and popularized by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence. Being emotionally intelligent requires leaders to be both highly attuned to their own emotions and feelings and the emotions and feelings of others. That is empathy.
People Value Empathy in the Workplace
Empathy is the ability to understand the needs of others and to be aware of their feelings and thoughts. It is the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas or opinions of the other person. Cultivating the ability to be empathetic leads to more effective communication, better relationship management and more positive outcomes. It’s a must-have for effective management.
In fact, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, “Empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance.”
Job seekers know this. As they consider companies that they might want to work for, one of their chief concerns is whether the culture of these organizations will be a good fit for them—whether the leadership team is strong and supportive. Will they feel as though they belong? Will they feel that they are understood? Will they feel that their manager “gets them?” Whether they articulate it or not, people are driven toward high performance and job commitment because of the empathy of their leaders.
Empathetic Managers are Better Leaders
Managers who are empathetic are better leaders and will have a more positive impact on the company’s staff, the culture and the overall success of the organization. That involves putting themselves in the shoes of their audience—viewing situations from the other person’s point of view.
As an empathetic leader, if you don’t understand what peoples’ strengths are and what their needs and preferences are you can’t be a valued resource for them. You can’t help them grow and thrive. Ultimately, of course, you can’t help them meet their needs, goals or the goals of the organization.
The pandemic provides an example of this. It has created an environment that challenged management to be even more empathetic than they may have been in the past. There has been a rapid adoption of digital technology for interactions that used to take place in-person. And the term “Zoom fatigue” has emerged—the recognition that so much time on-screen, generally with cameras required to be turned on, can be draining and stressful. Leaders with high levels of empathy or EI would recognize this based on their awareness and attention to the body language or feedback from people. They would, consequently, be more judicious of when and how often they called people together for a meeting; they would be open to relaxing requirements for people to always keep their cameras on.
Little Things Can Have a Big Impact
But if leaders don’t recognize this fatigue, if they simply take the path of least resistance and always default to conducting interactions with Zoom, they risk not being empathetic to employee needs and preferences. Without empathy, they may be managers, but they’re not effective managers. If they’re not empathetic managers they risk losing the engagement, commitment and loyalty of their staff members.
That’s just one small example. But those small examples build up. Every day leaders have numerous opportunities to delight or dismay those around them—your people, customers and others. It takes empathy and EI to be a leader who creates a supportive and engaging climate for people. The kind of environment candidates look for when deciding whether to work for a company. The kind of environment that will keep people on board and promote engagement and productivity.
The ability to be compassionate and connect with others is critical to our lives, both personally and professionally. If you want to work for a company where you’ll feel engaged, valued and understood, look for signs of empathy and emotional intelligence among those you interact with during the interview process. It matters.
Nurturing Emotional Intelligence and Empathy at Vibrent
At Vibrent we value, support and reward emotional intelligence and empathetic leadership. It’s an environment that actively seeks to listen to and understand employee needs—and environment that also values emotional intelligence and empathy in the people we hire.
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