The Importance of Empathy in Building GREAT Teams

Americans by the millions are going back to work, so it’s especially important that we discuss a key leadership skill. Whether you’re a leader in a large organization or a business owner, these days it is especially important that you treat people with empathy and understand that there may be more at play than you realize.  

“We must all try to empathize before we criticize. Ask someone what’s wrong before telling them they are wrong.” Simon Sinek

This important aspect of leadership is expressed best by the well-known author, Simon Sinek. In this video, click here to watch, he describes how empathy is the ability to understand and to be sensitive to another person’s feelings, thoughts and actions. Most business owners are so focused on the day-to-day operations of their business, that they don’t take the time, nor have they had the training, to appreciate the importance of being a more empathic leader. 

Sinek says that rather than taking charge, it’s more important for business owners to take care of those in their charge.

Empathy means being able to put oneself in the other’s shoes in an effort to relate to the other person. An empathetic leader is one who has a genuine interest in his/her team members' lives, their challenges and feelings. This kind of leader tries to understand the other persons situations and what they are going through, in order to offer support and help.

Many of today’s stressful work environments are ripe with terse communication and slack attitudes. This can result in a transactional attitude towards co-workers and the business owner. Especially in these pandemic times, with job losses, health scares and limited social time, empathy is a critical leadership skill.

Empowering your team is essential yet many business owners aren’t good at finding the positive every day and instilling faith in others. Most people don’t want to undermine leadership yet oftentimes owners act as though that’s the employee’s intention. Owners must understand that fact and realize that if their employees are not doing something right, it is probably because the owner hadn’t sufficiently trained them or had made invalid assumptions or didn’t check for understanding.

Empathy Means Showing Up For Others

Empathetic leadership is a skill that becomes better with practice. It isn’t easy being an empathetic leader because it often requires the owner to give credit to the team for successes and to accept the blame for disappointments. Fortunately, empathy can be learned through effort and patience by listening, caring for your team members, being vulnerable, accounting for their needs and being open to expanding your own frame of reference. Empathy is checking in with the mental state of your employees versus only their hard results.

Empathy is a Critical Skill in Building Quality Teams

In “First Break All The Rules”, Marcus Buckingham writes that based on analysis of extensive in-depth interviews of over one hundred thousand employees, that the most cited reason why people leave businesses is because of their boss. According to Buckingham, bosses who show interest and concern for their employees…who “set clear expectations, trust the employees, can forgive, and train their employees” have a far greatly likelihood of retaining employees than those owners who view their team through unempathetic lenses.

Top quality teams take pride in their work, in working together and helping the owner. A common ingredient of these teams is that the owner is empathetic and appreciates each member of the team.

These owners create an environment where employees can come to the owner and ask for guidance or help without fear of reprisal. Those employees who feel empowered by the business owner are more productive, treat customers better and generate higher profits.

On the other hand, owners who view members of their team as just workers who have a job are far more likely to have higher employee turnover rates. Anytime an employee leaves a business, they take with them the knowledge you taught them, they often go to competitors, and they leave you with a vacant position. That’s why effective leaders strive to minimize employee turnover. If the rate of employee turnover is high in your business, take a hard look at yourself as a leader and your level of empathy with your team.

 Take Time for Empathy

Spending time actively engaging with your employees will bode well for a positive working relationship. As a leader, you’ll be tapping into the interests and concerns of your team which will bring about a sense of obligation to perform for you. I’ve heard owners tell me they have high expectations for their employees and the employees are just doing their jobs.

In one case the owner insisted that he hired the best and didn’t give them “aata boys” / compliments because he expected top quality work. For two weeks I had him carry a counter around in his pocket and his goal was to give 5 compliments to member of his team each week. He was surprises at the impact after just two weeks.

An easy way to start is simply to say thanks and express appreciation for small victories.

Are you struggling with getting the best out of your people? Perhaps you need assistance in expressing empathy. Reach out to me and let’s talk about this important topic. I’ve helped many others business owners and most likely can add value to you as well.

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