Daniel Goleman, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, did a study that showed that almost 90% of the difference between incredibly successful leaders and average leaders is due to emotional factors rather than their actual skills as a leader. Many leaders don’t want to get involved emotionally, but to be truly successful you have to connect with your employees, customers and anyone else who impacts your organization on an emotional level. An emotional connection is very powerful and often transcends logic; so having that type of connection actually makes great business sense in that it gives you some flexibility when your organization maybe didn’t deliver its’ “A” game.
Considering how important it is to make these emotional connections, it is one of the most overlooked area of leadership training. The need for leaders to have empathy towards those with whom they interact with is important because it fundamentally influences how leaders lead and how people respond to them. When employees feel like they are heard and cared about, it directly relates to how productive they are in the workplace. An employee who feels empowerment is truly inspired and highly motivated and dedicated to the cause of the organization. Their trust in that leader is greatly increased and they feel like they have a bright future and that they can do anything! Wouldn’t you want a team that was so inspired?
When people fear their future and feel like it is filled with uncertainty and doubt, they tend to shut down and productivity is deeply affected. When your employees are barely hanging on, it has an effect on the bottom line of your organization. As a leader myself, I used to subscribe to the idea that I needed to keep my work life and my home life separate. I felt that if I got too close to an employee, I couldn’t effectively do my job. Over time and with a lot of leadership courses, I came to realize that I couldn’t do my job without the emotional connection that comes from really knowing those who were working for me. It was hard because that kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me but I can’t deny the change for the better…not just for the employees but for me as well.
The impact that an effective leader can have is massive. Almost every successful leader understands the mission and the revenue potential of their organization. Of course their main purpose is to maximize that revenue potential BUT an equal purpose of a great leader is to inspire their people to help them achieve their goals. Once I put two and two together, it fundamentally changed the way I led from that point forward.
Here are 3 things that can help you as a leader learn to develop empathy:
1. Know More About Your Team.
Do you know what inspires your team members? What is important enough to them to really fight for? How can you help them to realize their hopes and dreams if you don’t even know what they are? Why do you care about their hopes and dreams? Because as you support them in the things they care about, they become loyal to you and your organization. Show me an employee that feels like their boss truly cares about them and I’ll show you someone who is fiercely loyal and will fight hard to accomplish their boss’s goals. It’s a classic Win-Win scenario. Knowing them will allow you to understand what motivates them and drives them and that can be very powerful as you try to move your organization to the next level.
2. Care About The Things They Care About
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m having an conversation with someone and their eyes are wandering everywhere but in my direction. It makes me feel like I’m not important enough to warrant their full attention. I had this insurance agent, long retired, who used to do the exact opposite. When we spoke he made me feel like I was the most important person in the room. He was never rushed, always listened to what I had to say and was always interested in me and what I was doing…both personally and professionally. He NEVER missed my birthday. Ever. For years, even after he retired, George would send me happy birthday wishes and I have never forgotten it. We had insurance agents calling on us all the time trying to get our business. Do you think I ever considered making a switch? Absolutely not. When you connect in such a powerful way with a customer or an employee, you forge a bond that is not easily broken. I tried very hard to be like my agent friend George in my interactions with others. I wasn’t always successful at it but I know how I WANTED to be and I strived to find those kind of connections.
3. Let Them Shine
All too often, the leader of the organization gets all the credit. His team makes him look good and they often don’t get the praise. Actively look for opportunities to let your team have some of the limelight. Letting them lead, even if it’s a small sub-group or team, will help them grow as an individual and as a leader. One of things I used to discuss with team members as early as the hiring interview, was that I wanted them to know that my goal was to leave them better than I found them. I would provide professional and individual growth opportunities and if they decided at some point in the future to leave my company and go elsewhere, I would consider our relationship a success if they left in a better way than they came in. I truly believe that what comes around goes around and that if you feed the positive, positivity will return.
There are so many ways to show empathy. The opportunities are everywhere…you won’t have to look far. So the next time you find yourself saying “I know how you feel” stop and ask yourself: Do I? Can you really say you say that or is it just lip service? Invest emotionally in those around you. I promise: you’ll find it worth the effort.