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Leadership in a Crisis - Leading with Empathy

Leadership Development

During periods of change and transition, which are ruled by uncertainty, good leadership is paramount. Your team will see you as a beacon, however, you will need to understand how they are coping, as individuals and as a team.  Aside from the expected leadership competencies, the ability to lead with empathy will set you apart from the rest.

What is meant by leading with empathy?

Empathy is listening to others and attempting to see things from their perspective.

Leading with empathy means:

  • Making decisions based upon a fuller engagement with team members who can help in accomplishing the mission
  • You listen to and acknowledge other’s perspectives and feelings

Listening and understanding do not mean that a leader changes course because some people respond negatively or disagree. Nor does acquiring perspective mean that a leader will seek the path of least resistance by sacrificing long-term success for short-term peace.

Empathy is a leadership competency

Empathy, an essential component of emotional intelligence, is a skill that must be developed by leaders. 

Leading with empathy allows a leader to:

  • Create an engaged and motivated workforce
  • More successfully work through periods of resistance
  • Build high-performance teams

Strategies to develop empathy as a leadership competency:

Cultivate your EQ

Consider the following:

  • Self-awareness - are you self-aware and able to recognise your emotions?
  • Emotional management - are you able to maintain your cool?
  • Effective communication - are you able to express your thoughts clearly?
  • Social awareness - can you see what is going on and give valuable feedback?
  • Conflict resolution - can you effectively handle conflicts and offer a resolution?

Get to know your team

Get to know your team beyond their role description and KPI’s. If you want to get the best out of people, you need to get to know them on an individual level first and understand what they can offer and their potential. Gain an understanding of their skills, knowledge and talents, while also identifying their strengths and weaknesses. And provide them with opportunities to perform outside the scope of their traditional role. Many sporting coaches use this strategy when they position players out of their usual position on the sporting field. It gives them the opportunity to observe other skills and talents they possess when taken out of their comfort zone.

Leading with empathy allows you to gain insight into others, creates bonds and builds and strengthens relationships.

Good communication is imperative

Having good communication with your people, including well established two-way channels, is essential. This can be achieved by practising active listening and giving your employees your full attention when conversing with them. Also, it is important to allow your employees to have a voice by providing a safe space, free of preconceived judgement, to share their concerns, raise frustrations and air grievances.

In summary, the ability to lead with empathy is an essential leadership competency because it enables a leader to create an engaged and motivated workforce, work more successfully through periods of resistance, and build high-performance teams. Strategies to develop empathy as a leadership competency include cultivating your emotional intelligence, getting to know your team, and having good, open and honest communication.

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