Leading With Empathy

I’m finding that leaders don’t always lead with empathy. To start, here is the definition of empathy that I’m using:

empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

It’s also useful to discuss exactly what my priorities are when managing:

  1. Grow the career of the employee. This includes finding growth opportunities and making sure the employee knows their strengths.
  2. Representing the employee to the rest of the company and department.
  3. Finding my own replacement. This ties into the first goal. You can find more information elsewhere.

So far in my career I find empathy to be one of the most important skills when managing employees and trying to lead at the same time.

One of the goals when leading an organization is thinking about it’s future growth and development. You want your employees to want to work their for a long time. There are a lot of books about this topic and one of my favorites is The Progress Principle. Another book that often talks about these same ideas is Give and Take.

In order to put these ideas into practice you have to be able to find road blocks and understand what makes your employees happy. Why are they working for you in the first place? What would keep them here? What would make them leave? I try to ask these questions directly during 1 on 1’s in order to keep things in perspective. You’re not always going to get completely honest answers, but in my opinion, more data is better than less.

When working on decisions that affect the business and my team, I try to remember what it was like to be in their shoes and try to anticipate how they will react. The more I know them, the easier this is. Often anticipating reactions can help lead to better ideas that will keep their goals in perspective. When I know that a certain employee likes being brought into ideas early, I will make sure that happens. If I know a certain employee likes working on certain projects, I will try to make that happen.

You’ve never able to apply these ideas in every situation, but the more you do, the more trust you earn and the less of an impact the other times will have on the employee and/or team.

I also feel that you should want to fight for all of your employees that are on board with the business goals. Clearly if you have someone that doesn’t want to be there, or refuses to improve that’s a different story. However if you have someone that wants to be there, and is trying, you should either be willing to fight for them, or not be their manager.

When doing this you should be able to get employees that actively like you as their manager. They should want to do a good job and they should want to improve. At that point don’t let anyone convince you that this employee isn’t worth fighting for. Figure out what their goals are and help them reach them, even if it’s replacing you at your own job… which should be one of your goals anyway.