Nowadays, most businesses rely on Artificial Intelligence and technology for success and growth; while technology and automation are excellent for productivity, successful business leaders are differentiated by their human qualities, namely, Empathy and Compassion. For the past two years, business leaders have been shouldering an enormous emotional burden, enabling employees to recover from the grief and loss of the pandemic, being sensitive to people’s anxieties. “Sympathy,” “empathy,” and “compassion” are often used synonymously, but whereas Sympathy and Empathy are emotions felt for and with other people, Compassion goes beyond mere sentiment and includes a purpose to help others. When leaders move beyond mere Empathy and are motivated to empower the team, they take sustainable actions that will benefit the business and the employees.
Negative behavior like putting your team down, unrealistic demands, comparison, frustration, anger, and manipulation, among others, can lead to a lack of productivity, low morale, and a high attrition rate. Humane virtues like empathy and compassion are vital to earning respect and, in turn, being a respected leader who can foster positive work culture and successful results.
Empathy begins with being patient and understanding one’s situation, opinions, and character. Empathy creates room for people to be more positive, respectful, and open towards each other. This then leads to compassion, where leaders act with the intent of making a positive difference. It promotes listening, expressing, and respecting each other in a non-judgmental fashion.
Henry Ford once said, “if there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put oneself in another person’s place and to see things from his or her point of view – as well as from one’s own.” As successful leaders, it is crucial to understand the rationale behind your employee’s behavior and what you can do to support them. Taking a moment to understand different perspectives, rather than jumping to conclusions, helps you lead with empathy and then tackle the problem with kindness and compassion.
Why are empathy and compassion essential virtues
Build trust and respect – Understanding your team’s situation and behavior promotes a trusting and respectful culture. This flows both ways – from leaders to employees and employees to leaders. Not only will this make you more approachable, but your employees will be comfortable sharing with you. Furthermore, research has shown that leaders’ feelings of warmth, trust, and positivity are critical for employee morale, significantly influencing work culture.
Today, everyone faces many stresses in their day-to-day lives. It is a natural human tendency to feel part of a group with strong interpersonal connections. Scientifically, our brains release several chemicals and signals that make us feel safe and secure. Even neuroimaging research has confirmed this. Empathic leading styles create a safe workplace. Trust, safety, and connection improve relationships, reduce conflict, lower stress, and promotes a humane work environment.
Boost morale and performance – When trust and respect form the basis of work culture, employee morale is high, leading to better performance and productivity. Employees are motivated to work harder, take fewer leaves, and take up more challenges. The support they receive helps them navigate challenges and problem-solve without worry. Employees are more engaged, and it leads to higher productivity. This, of course, has an immense impact on business success.
How do you build Empathy and Compassion?
Like many leadership qualities, Empathy and Compassion come naturally for some leaders, and for others, it may take some time and practice to develop the skill. Here are a few ways to build the skills:
Tune-in and Listen – A successful leader will always have good listening skills. Listen and take the time to understand your employee’s perspective. Try to relate or provide solutions when required. This will build the respect and trust mentioned above. Over time, teams become comfortable sharing problems, challenges, or even wins without wondering how their leader might react. Research has also shown that employees perceive their leaders as more supportive and empathetic when they actively listen to their concerns. When listening, don’t get distracted or be in a hurry. Be patient and present.
Furthermore, as a successful leader, always remember that your team is competent and skilled. Listening to them will help you learn too. When leaders are open to learning and don’t have a ‘know-it-all’ attitude, they create a more engaged and committed team.
Develop Mindfulness – Mindfulness helps leaders to gain a heightened awareness of emotions, thoughts, and how our body feels under stress. Mindfulness allows leaders to respond consciously and intentionally rather than react in explosive and dysfunctional ways without thinking first.
This means you can tackle difficult conversations more efficiently and handle criticism and harsh comments without affecting your work. Ultimately, being more mindful will help leaders remain more composed and respond to situations calmly.
Ask Questions – To foster Empathy and Compassion, ask questions. Provide safe workplace forums for stakeholders to express emotions. Employees want to feel included and acknowledged. We mirror the behaviors of those around us, and leaders are influential role models through their empathetic and compassionate acts that demonstrate care for employees’ basic needs—actively engaging in open dialogue with stakeholders to share their vulnerabilities and find solutions for them.
Be Involved – Be a more involved leader. As a leader, it is not possible to completely be a part of daily operations, but when you are approachable and available for the team, they know that their leader is with them through the crisis and the good times.
Empathy and Compassion are not just good-to-have skills; they are essential for any successful business leader. When leaders can look at a situation from different perspectives, they bring in a more profound understanding that helps them make more significant and impactful decisions. On a more humane level, understanding another person’s point of view also creates better connections and appreciation, promoting personal well-being.