Tuesday 29th Sep 2020
The role of business leaders has changed over the decades, as we realise that different qualities might be more important than we first thought. The idea of inspiration and building a personal brand has certainly seen popularity in recent years. Now however, it’s empathy that’s in the limelight. Whether the organisation is small or large, the empathetic choices of those at the top really do matter, and this has been thrown into sharp focus during the coronavirus pandemic. As we move into a post-COVID world, it’s likely that those leaders that placed a focus on empathy are those that will retain a strong team, ready for the challenges ahead.
It seems obvious, but it’s perhaps the most important element of empathy. Listening to people is how you come to truly understand their point of view – whether it’s on business matters, or how their personal life is affecting them. And this can only happen through genuine listening too - it’s not good enough to merely put in the face-to-face time, you have to fully interpret what’s being said. In order to listen properly, you should learn to be present. Give your full attention to those that you’re listening to. And it’s not just about what’s said either; body language can reveal a lot about how a person feels.
Empathy isn’t a catch-all issue. You cannot be truly empathetic if it’s at a top level towards all of your employees. Talk to people on an individual basis to find out what their own personal difficulties are. Have they had trouble working from home because of a lack of resources? Are they struggling with childcare? Listen and relate to people on an individual basis, and you’ll then be able to empathise properly. This will help you develop any personalised response that you need to deliver as we move through the crisis. Rather than implementing blanket policies, empathy will help you tailor to individuals, which will undoubtedly lead to a better recovery from the difficulties of the pandemic.
This is possibly the most difficult part of empathy for some people, but it’s simply essential. Judgement isn’t empathy. If individuals explain their issues to you, then you need to put yourself in their shoes rather than make judgements, and see things from their perspective. It’s all too easy as a successful business leader to judge people for not properly balancing their work and home life, or not being as effective as they are, or take a negative view of them for making a mistake. Empathy is all about understanding from another perspective, and being good at it is a hugely useful quality.