“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt
We do not realize the impact we can have on others. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or SME, the founder of a high-tech startup, the head of a charitable organization, a small business owner or simply an individual contributor – this quote is a universal truth, in particular when one practices Responsible Leadership.
One of the goals of Responsible Leadership is to improve the lives of those around them. One way of doing that is to display empathy. Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is feeling or experiencing from their point of reference. It’s at the heart of leadership success as it engenders acceptance, understanding, and trust. It’s not just about being nice and caring about others. True empathy requires taking the time to gain deep insight into people’s thought processes, needs, and expectations.
Besides reducing job burnout, empathy facilitates communication, provides clarity and understanding, as well as motivating, engaging, and creating collaboration on creative solutions.
To become more effective at developing empathy and giving others the sense of being heard and seen,
here are a few ideas you can use:
Active listening (focusing on the speaker, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully) is a skill that we don’t often use in our everyday lives. Instead, we tend to be occupied with what we are going to say next or how what someone else is saying relates to us. But it’s important for leaders to not just listen, but to actively listen.
Taking time to actively listen by understanding and communicating what you have heard can help the other person feel seen and heard by you. This also helps build trust and it helps you understand their intentions and motivations for future engagement.
Do you tend to surround yourself with people who share your opinions? Are you willing to listen and learn from others’ feedback? Are you open-minded enough to ask “How am I doing?” “What do you think about this?” and open enough to change your mind? How do you react when someone presents viewpoints that differ from yours?
Responsible leaders are empathic and open to hearing new ideas and actively seek out diverse sources of information. For this to happen, a leader must be willing to engage in self-examination and open to getting feedback, which can lead to greater credibility with those around them.
If you’re open and are willing to learn from feedback – then others are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Evaluating different points of view can help you identify more creative solutions, understand opposing perspectives, and make better decisions faster based on the full range of perspectives available to you.
When getting feedback, treat the answers like gold. Listen as thoughtfully and actively as you can, and don’t react defensively if you disagree with what someone says. This is still their opinion; it doesn’t have to be true. And even if their opinions don’t change your mind, they may have useful information that can help the situation and make the reasons for your final decision clearer.
Empathy isn’t just “feeling someone’s pain”; it’s understanding where they’re coming from and why, and having some sense of how they feel about it. It’s not always easy. But it’s crucial to learn from this feedback if you want to grow as a leader and build a high-performing team.
Many leaders either lack empathy or feel awkward about showing it, and consequently end up displaying a kind of sympathy instead: feeling sorry for people instead of understanding them.
Empathy differs from sympathy; when feeling empathy, you are with them—you can see the world from their point of reference. By contrast, when feeling sympathy, you are feeling sorry for them, not with them. This video by Brene Brown is a personal favorite that has profoundly impacted how I practice empathy as it beautifully illustrates.
Leaders who practice and show empathy generally inspire employees to strive harder than those who show sympathy, because they inspire employees’ belief in their capability to improve.
Empathy as a competency is becoming more and more compelling, particularly in an age of rapid growth in technology and innovation. Responsible leaders who are empathetic—who know how to understand and connect with their people—will drive up trust and loyalty, leading to more personal and professional success. But most importantly, it will improve the lives of those around them. The good feelings that go along with being heard and seen will spread through the organization and among stakeholders, fostering acceptance, understanding, and trust across the board.
I challenge you –