Empathy: An Unexpected Leadership Superpower

During this unprecedented time, business owners and corporate leaders must understand how to lead with empathy in order to balance the needs of the business with the needs of their employees. Those who tend to manage, vs. lead, will focus on tangibles; checking off boxes and slowing the financial hemorrhaging. Those things, of course, are critically important. True leaders who employ an unexpected leadership superpower –  empathy – will understand the nuances of the intangibles that help people rise above the turmoil of the crisis. 

Stop and Listen. Your Employees are Human.

An exceptional leader will take extra effort to practice empathy with employees, peers, and strategic partners. Put yourself in other people’s shoes before making decisions. Use that perspective to determine what you say and how you say it. Taking a moment to think about other people’s circumstances, feelings, and struggles will help you strike the right tone, even if you have to deliver bad news. It can make the difference in whether your people feel like a human being you care about or a number on a spreadsheet.

If you are honest about how you are feeling (see superpower #2 Introspection) then those around you will be honest with you. You can then work together to use those uncertainties to drive better teamwork and collaboration. Ask people how they are doing and make it clear you are open to hearing that they are scared, frustrated, angry. By naming what we are experiencing we can move from a “hair on fire”, flight or fight amygdala hijack to a more logic-centered part of the brain. It will ground people and enable them to tap into critical thinking skills. In addition, by signaling that you care about what others are going through you will inspire loyalty. People will trust that they can be candid and open with you. This gives you clarity and ensures that you are getting the full picture and not operating with blind spots. 

The Difference Between Leading and Managing

I am finding that the leaders who are most tuned in to themselves and their team are able to keep people motivated and engaged to achieve a better organizational outcome. “When people feel heard, they will move mountains for you.”  These are the kind of organizations you will see flourish during tough times, as they come up with creative solutions and focus unwaveringly on their customers. These results are why empathy is such an effective leadership superpower.

Be empathetic and watch your team’s morale surge and productivity rise. An empathetic leader is one their people will walk on hot coals for. They will thank you and so will your business!

Next up, employing balanced communications and Kind Excellence to address difficult conversations – Superpower #4

Leading with Introspection Through Turbulent Times

Introspection is a Leadership Superpower

Stress and anxiety are palpable everywhere. Exceptional leaders will recognize this as an opportunity to practice and model introspection, a leadership superpower. This is the opposite of taking the stance “don’t be emotional at work”! People experience emotions all day, everyday and research indicates 70% of decisions are driven by emotion, not logic. While emotions are running high right now, self-awareness, skillful observation, and active listening is required when leading with introspection.

The key is to recognize emotions and take hold of them instead of letting them take hold of us. When we are stressed, anxious, fearful, angry – our amygdala gets hijacked and all logic goes out the window. We become incapable of problem-solving, thinking linearly, finding the root cause or being creative. People who have become overwhelmed or triggered either become very reactive – like losing their temper – or they shut down. Neither is productive.

Introspection results in better outcomes

Practicing introspection means we identify for ourselves, or to others, what emotion we are experiencing, process it, and decide what to do with it. During a crisis, it is important to model this for others, especially if you lead a team or organization. It is a strength, not a weakness, to know when you need support. Your team, peers and clients will respect you for being able to say “I’m concerned… I need your help…” They will be much more likely to rally around you and do what needs to be done. Think about it – wouldn’t you rather hear that kind of honesty vs. someone losing their shit in a meeting? It is a sign of trust to be able to tell someone they disappointed you or made you angry.

Introspective people see their own biases and assumptions and make an active effort to push past them. This is critical during a crisis. No one person has all the answers or all the best ideas. An introspective leader can identify the pang they may feel when someone comes up with an idea that is better than theirs, and move past the blow to the ego to realize the best idea is what is most important. 

Introspection leads to action

This is a fearful time. Anyone who says they are not experiencing any fear right now is a big fat liar. What many people don’t understand is that by merely acknowledging we are afraid we start to master the fear. When we stuff down emotions they cause havoc. Avoidance accomplishes nothing and often results in the problem only getting bigger. Once we name what we are experiencing we can then start to confront it and problem-solve what to do about it.

Your people need to see, not just hear, that it’s ok to be feeling overwhelmed or anxious or stressed. When you allow people to name what they are experiencing and explain its impact, it helps diffuse it. Then you can help them identify what they need to be able to move past it.  

Mastering and leading with introspection is the first step to learning true empathy. Once we become cognizant of why we do things, it enables us to be open to why others might be reacting a certain way.

Stay tuned for Superpower # 3 – Empathy.