Quite possibly the most underused word in the English language.
Why? Because it provokes innovation, stories and detail. It is a catalyst for breakthroughs and a-ha moments, creates a spirit of curiosity and seeks to understand cause and opportunity.
It’s a powerful word and one that sits right at the heart of one the most valuable skills one can hold as a leader: Empathy.
Empathy is having the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another. It allows you to feel with someone and is free of judgement. It encourages diversity of thought and fresh perspective through inquiry and communication.
It is about being aware of your impact and creating a clear pathway to understanding one another by asking the right questions.
As a leader, empathy demonstrates care and a willingness to take feelings into consideration and to understand motives. It inspires innovation and enables you to communicate more clearly and plan more strategically as you are able to predict a response and understand intentions.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to create this space that enables your team to feel safe, grow and thrive.
If your organisation has created this culture of openness, you will likely be rewarded through loyalty, effort, collaboration and an above-and-beyond approach to drive the wider team to success.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for organisations that have created a culture of mistrust. Put simply, if you do not ask for or appreciate the opinions of those in your team, you are simply not a leader; you are a manager. This lack of trust within the team can lead to unethical, dishonest and cutthroat behaviour.
As an employee, the same principles still apply. It is your responsibility to look up and question why things happen the way they do as the quality of your work is directly linked to the quality of the questions you ask.
Empathetic companies create the best cultures, retain the best employees and reap the biggest rewards. In a report released by The Empathy Business in 2016, it was found that the Top 10 companies increased in value more than twice as much as those in the bottom 10. It also found a high correlation between the departments that is displayed higher levels of empathy with the departments with the most top performers.
Its role doesn’t need to be dramatic and it doesn’t cost a lot (or anything!) but can have long-term and widespread effects on the team, company growth and yes, the bottom line. Contrary to popular belief, empathy is quantifiable and can be data-driven through metrics such as: CEO approval ratings, diversity ratings, development planning and the interaction amongst your team and the effects it has on their performance.
Empathetic leaders are influential and enable the collaborative culture needed in order to work towards and lead the way to positive outcomes. They are aware of the environment in which they are operating and are devoted to continuous growth - of both themselves and the individuals in their team.
Take, for example, Jack Welch who infamously turned General Electric’s fate in the 1980’s and making it the most valuable in the world at the time. How? Through his belief in human potential and continued development. Welch believed that the opinions held by those from his senior executive’s team all the way through to those managing the front-line were all of equal value. His commitment to nurturing this potential and creating a place where collaboration was encouraged, was just one of the reasons that Fortune 100 called him one of “the most widely admired, studied and imitated CEO’s of his time…”
The benefits of empathy in action can not be overstated.
So next time a colleague, friend, family member - whoever, comes to you and says something like “I just had the worst/best day” or “I’m really struggling with this project”, instead of firing straight back with “Ugh, me too!”, pause. Keep the dialogue flowing and ask why they’re feeling that way. Not only will it arm you with insight and perspective but it opens the door to creating more meaningful connections. I promise you, you will not be disappointed. Everyone has a story to tell and they are often utterly fascinating.
Whether you're just beginning your leadership journey or you're a seasoned pro, these are the 5 tools that we consider to be essential:
[BOOK] The Power of Why
[BOOK] Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results
[BOOK] Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy
[CARDS] Questions & Empathy: Provocations for applied empathy
[VIDEO] How great leaders inspire action
by Lyndal Hamwood