The first step towards empathetic leadership

A friend of mine recently confided that she despises Mondays.

“I hate having to ask everyone about their weekend! It sounds awful, but I do not actually care. I feel like I am faking it.” She added that she feels frustrated by all this talk about the importance of empathy in leadership and wonders, “How does one feel something they do not feel?”

Not an easy question to answer. Is asking about the weekend just social etiquette or anything to do with caring at all?

Admittedly the definition of empathy has been inconsistent – so most of us are still debating how it differs from compassion or caring. For this article, I will refer to empathy from the original Greek etymology: empatheia (from em- ‘in’ + pathos ‘feeling’). Meaning our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – and by shoes, we mean other’s feelings, thoughts, and perspectives.

Empathy is said to be one of the most important traits of a good leader, and it is essential for several reasons. First, it helps leaders to understand their team members better. When leaders take the time to understand how their team members are feeling truly, they can more effectively motivate and inspire them.

Second, empathy builds trust. When team members feel like their leaders care about them as people, they are more likely to trust them and be loyal to the organization.

Finally, empathy leads to better decision-making. When leaders consider how their decisions will impact their team members, they are more likely to make choices that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole.

Knowing all this, you should start seeing the value in becoming an empathic leader and might wonder how you can become one.

So how can you develop empathy if you don’t already have it? Where does one start?

Though some people are born with more empathy than others, it is a quality that can be learnt.

I believe that understanding who you truly are and learning self-leadership is the first step to becoming an empathic leader. You must first understand your own needs and deep values to understand and empathize with others. Only when you know yourself can you begin to know others.

So, empathy starts with self-awareness, and self-awareness begins with curiosity. This means learning to tune into your own emotions and recognizing how they affect your behavior. It also means being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Because once you have a clear understanding of your own emotions, values, and needs, you can start to become more attuned to the emotions, values, and needs of others.

However, becoming more self-aware doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that takes more than curiosity – it takes time and effort.

Here are some things you can do to work on your self-awareness:

1. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. For example, when you’re angry, sad, or anxious, take a moment to stop and reflect on what might be causing those emotions. Are they based on something that happened in the past or something that’s happening in the present? Are they rational or irrational? Are you adopting ‘black and white thinking’? Identifying your emotions can help you understand why you’re feeling them and how they’re affecting your behavior. Remember not all emotions have the same value. Some are useful and some are not at all.

2. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. We all have things we’re good at and things we’re not so good at. Recognizing our limitations can help us be more humble and more open-minded towards others who might be different from us. Accepting our weaknesses is also an essential step towards personal growth. After all, when we accept our limitations, we acknowledge that we are not perfect and have room for improvement. This can help us be more empathetic to others as we realize that everyone has their own set of challenges to deal with.

3. Seek feedback from others. Ask your friends or family members for their honest opinion about how they see you. What do they think are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What do they believe motivates you? Their feedback can give you valuable insights into how others see you and how you can improve yourself as a leader. It is important to remember that feedback, whether it is positive or negative, is not always about who you are as a person. Rather, it is about how others perceive you. This can be difficult to accept, but it is crucial to remember that feedback is just data. It does not necessarily reflect your true character or worth. Ultimately, the goal is to use feedback to become the best version of yourself.

4. Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you better understand yourself. When we take the time to write down our thoughts and feelings, we allow ourselves to step back and see our lives from a different perspective. We can examine our beliefs and behaviors with empathy and compassion, understanding why we act the way we do and how our actions impact those around us. A journal can also be a place where you reflect on your successes and challenges as a leader. Finally, you can use what you learn about yourself to improve the way you interact with others.

5. Practice meditation or mindfulness. Taking time to focus on your breath or quiet your mind can help you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and body. Regular meditation or mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve focus, increase emotional intelligence, and boost self-awareness.

Becoming an empathic leader starts with understanding yourself. Only when you know yourself can you begin to know others. Being curious and learning self-leadership is the first step toward developing empathy because it enables self-awareness.

So, to become a more empathic leader, start by engaging your curiosity and looking inward. Eventually, you’ll be able to become more curious about others too. Then, I promise you, the rest will follow.

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