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How can business owners show empathy and maintain strong leadership?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In the first instance, empathy may seem altruistic and seen by some as showing weakness or pandering to their team. In practice however, empathy within a business helps to create an environment where colleagues are more committed to the business and its aims, and the team can perform at their highest levels, and feel empowered to make improvements and innovate.

So how does the power of empathy do all that?

  • Empathy increases loyalty.

Empathy is seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and understanding what it is like to walk in their shoes. To do this you have to spend time listening, adapting and making changes based on the information you are hearing. A person on the receiving end of this approach will feel respected, valued and that they can contribute. We often hear the phrase ‘colleagues join businesses and leave managers’ – and they do – but not when they are treated in this way. Often, they will stay and perhaps refer a friend to work for the business, too.

  • Empathy enables colleagues to deal with challenges and work as a team.

In a team where there is high empathy, colleagues feel supported and clear on what’s expected. Teams are able to collaborate, generate thoughts on how to tackle the challenges ahead and work together to get the job done. Empathy brings a culture of collective achievement; not one person gaining but everyone being able to play their part and contribute to the business goals.

  • Empathy creates a culture where there is high trust and no fear of failure.

Innovation happens when colleagues feel safe and know that they will not be ridiculed for sharing a thought or idea. No idea is a silly idea – or if it is, share it anyway because who knows? Someone could just have a moment of genius, which is lost if the environment is driven by status and appearance. True brilliance can happen when colleagues can be creative with no barriers to stifle thought.

High performance can be achieved where there is loyalty, freedom to get the job done and high trust exist. This happens as high expectations and challenge can be present where leadership shows empathy and support.

So, given the many benefits of this approach, how can leaders become better at being empathetic with the people they work with?

  • They must understand their team’s needs – ask and listen.
  • They should create an environment of open communication and more effective feedback; communication must be two way.
  • Allow colleagues to explore problems that they face and ways to resolve them. Leaders do not have all the answers – that is okay, nor should they. Show humility and be open-minded.
  • When things go wrong, acknowledge it, look for ways to ensure it doesn’t happen again, create accountability but never look for blame and fault. Some of our best lessons are from getting it wrong.

Would you like to develop an effective and insightful leadership team? Find out more about our HR management and executive coaching or call us on 020 3633 6830.

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Claire Merton, People Director

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