Empathy and trust go hand in hand. We follow those in whom we trust. Creating trust however doesn’t come with an owners manual. Trust is built over time through genuine relationship, investing in and supporting another and demonstrating trustworthy qualities. As leaders we so often give others our trust but know in return we need to earn theirs.
So if trust is a key ingredient to leadership effectiveness, empathy is the mixing bowl. Empathy a learned trait. A complex set of skills that continues to build upon itself. The ability to understand another persons point of view without necessarily agreeing. Having an understanding and appreciation of what another is experiencing. Those with empathy have genuine desire to know and understand others.
As the member of many teams I have always appreciated and gravitated towards leaders who showed empathy to the greater team. A genuine concern for the teams wellbeing and opinions. Enabling every team member to feel heard, appreciated and equals on the playing field. Referred to as a soft skill empathy does not just cover feeling sorry for another. Empathy is the gift of being able to walk in anothers shoes and then appreciate what they might be going through, how they could be feeling and even understanding their views based on a set of circumstances.
So the question beckons, if empathy is key to leadership effectiveness how do I gain more? This will greatly depend on the view you have towards leadership and the key motivators for you as a leader. Do you view leadership as a privilege or a right of passage? Your view upon and desire for those in whom you are entrusted to lead will greatly determine the level of empathy you possess. If you are constantly considering and self evaluating your leadership impact then you are likely showing empathy to a large extent. On the other hand if you are only focused on the results or output of your team then empathy may be a potential blind-spot.
Personal experiences also often have a large impact on our level of empathy. If we have been the beneficiary of a great leader who has demonstrated a great degree of empathy we will feel empowered and hopefully desire the same for those we lead. Our level of self-awareness will also determine our attitude regarding empathy. As leaders grow in self-awareness, being right is often replaced by appreciating others views without always agreeing to those views.
We certainly never master empathy and all have room for improvement. Empathy is not a new concept. Even the bible weaves empathy through passages such as Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. The verse sounds so simple but if it were true we would all have an abundance of this enriching and empowering gift. Not so.
A stepping stone to growing in empathy is active listening coupled with seeking to understand before being understood. Increasing the amount of questions we ask as leaders to better understand the opinions of others will not only grow our level of empathy but also foster trust. Being more curious and less certain helps shape that very mindset.
Many businesses have a core set of values with which they create a culture. Encouraging behaviours in the workplace which match those values creates how they do business. You could do worse than encourage empathy from your employees. Emotional intelligence now a truly desired quality. Maybe always has been.