Before COVID-19 hit, the best business leaders claimed that to be the best leader, you had to be present and accessible. 2020 changed this view, including the way society worked and how business leaders lead. Amid the self-isolation and social distancing brought about by COVID-19, accessible and present leadership takes a new form.
Traditional management styles emphasize productivity and efficiency; now, supervisors and managers are responsible for maintaining the safety, health and well-being of their workforce. It’s not just about expecting your team to do well; you have to empathize with them during these trying times.
COVID-19, deadlines, the kids, the bills or a home loan application – these are just some of your employees’ worries apart from their responsibilities in the office. Expecting them to work well during these trying times is not effective leadership. It’s all about managers and supervisors leading with empathy.
Empathy Makes You a Better Leader
Empathy is the key to connecting with your subordinates and earning their respect. An empathetic outlook can also inspire your team to be more productive. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology reported that empathetic actions can drastically improve productivity in different working environments. A part of the study had lifeguards read stories of how their job helped others increase their perception of social work. Participants who read these stories became more dedicated to their job, as well as in helping others.
The same principle applies to leadership. Your employees want to be understood; if you understand them, you empathize with them. When you empathize with them, you gain their trust. Your team will perform better when they know you understand their struggles, especially the people who are having a hard time coping with the pandemic.
Compassion is Active Empathy
Conversations about empathy also touch on compassion. These terms, however, are not interchangeable.
As mentioned, empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings. Although you are not experiencing the struggles of your employees, you are mindful of their feelings. Where can you align with the people in your team in terms of shared concerns? What are your team’s concerns regarding their family and their work?
Once you’ve practice empathy along with your leadership, only then can you lead with compassion.
Compassionate leadership goes beyond feeling empathetic; they do something about the situation. They recognize the problem, understand their subordinates’ struggles and become part of the solution. When you lead with compassion, you use your resources and position to help your team address their concerns.
Actionable Steps to Compassionate Leadership
Revolutionize your organization by being a compassionate leader. If you’re uncertain where you should begin or how to set your goals, consider the following steps:
• Talk about compassion. If you don’t know how to start a conversation about compassion and empathy, be upfront with your team about your intention. Start with the basic question: “How can the company help you?” Listen to what your employees have to share.
• Use your position to be the solution. As you begin to hear input from your team, consider how you can help them. Support for your team can take the form of:
o Additional sick days
o Extended paid leaves
o Technology support; equip them with computers, speakers or the budget laptops for video editing
o Flexible work schedules to accommodate the demands of working from home
o Better healthcare coverage (e.g. mental health coverage and telehealth)
• Foster connections with employees and partners. Compassion depends on frequent and meaningful communications, especially when people are working remotely. Make time to build relationships with your team and listen actively while you’re at it.
• Practice compassion frequently. If you want to get better at compassion, keep practicing. Set aside time during the week to participate in activities that cultivate compassion in your company.
How to Be More Compassionate as a Leader
Attitude-wise, it’s not enough to just be compassionate for the sake of improving the office. It has to be a lifestyle – one that requires constant practice and mindfulness. Here are some things to consider.
First, accept that your team has different coping mechanisms. Not everyone feels great. Consider the differences in their circumstances since not all of your employees are affected by the crisis in the same manner. Some are working alone; others have to juggle work with kids.
Second, be generous with your interpretations. When tensions arise in the office, do not judge immediately. Instead, understand the reason behind the tension. Focus on the underlying issue and acknowledge how they feel before you reach a settlement or points for improvement.
Finally, be a source of encouragement. Don’t demand too much; understand that everyone is going through trying times. Instead, be with your team as they work hard. Offer a word of encouragement, become a source of support. Be on their side when necessary.
The world needs more empathy right now and you can be a part of that. Start with your team. Be the empathetic and compassionate leader they need.